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Lake Cowichan to renovate, not move town hall

The decision was made at an in camera meeting in mid-February.
Mayor Rod Peters

Lake Cowichan council has decided to upgrade its municipal hall, rather than purchase the old Kingdom Hall on Neva Road and move the whole operation in there.

The decision was made at an in camera meeting in mid-February.

“Well, we just decided that we’ve got to get off our lazy butts and do something about this,” said Mayor Rod Peters. “It’s been hanging around since 2004. This building is in very bad shape.”

The town will not be buying another building.

“What we are going to do now is we are going to upgrade this area here,” he said, indicating the present council chambers. “We’ll use it for the offices, and for the town hall, where people pay their bills and at that point, during construction, the town office will be situated in Stanley Gordon School. And the council chambers will be situated in the fire hall.”

That’s the current fire hall, not what’s left of the old one next to the town hall, Peters confirmed.

“Yes, the real one. We’re not going in there,” Peters said, to laughter.

Coun. Tim McGonigle then said, “If I could just add that the council chambers that were brought forward in the plan are not going forward in this renovation. This is just to be clear. Opportunities for council chambers will be looked at at some future date,” he said. “It’s just the town hall, the offices, and [where the staff work].”

The same night as this discussion council decided that the Town of Lake Cowichan should apply for grant money from Clean BC to help pay for the renovation job.

In its application, the town “undertakes to cover any cost overruns that exceed the funding provided under this program” and also “provides assurance that it would cover at a minimum its contribution of 26.67 per cent of the cost of the project.”

The province’s Clean BC fund contains $62.94 million to support infrastructure projects around B.C.

McGonigle said that the application was a retrofit for windows, roof, and heating system.

“From there, we’ll see how the meetings go in the new firehall.”

Work is anticipated to begin in May.

First up will be the roof, the heat pumps, the siding, and then once that’s done, “we’ll relocate the staff to Stanley Gordon and then carry on with the renovations on the inside,” Peters said.

Right after that session, there was a storm of comment on The Junction Facebook page as two sides argued fiercely about the project.

Bear Hamilton started the ball rolling by saying, “Our tax dollars at work. Rather than create new digs for these wanna be high roller smucks[sic] I would like to see some sewer upgrades, pot holes repaired, sidewalks, etc. but they are more about looking rich for the tourists in my opinion. We just live here and pay the bills.”

Matthew Kercher, one of the larger-than-usual number of residents who actually attended the council meeting, urged Lake Cowichan residents to the meetings so they could get the story directly from council, instead of through gossip. David Ridley was also there and said he was happy to hear that something was going to be done about the outside of the town hall, which he called, “an eyesore.”

Writers on Facebook asked about how old the town hall building was, commented on how small it was for the staff that have to work there, and wondered if that piece of riverfront property could be sold for a good price while the office was moved somewhere cheaper.

Al Val Sangster and Matt Piechnik said they had hoped a village complex could go in at the old A.B. Greenwell School site since the town is planning on moving its works yard there.

Sue Lindstrom said, “When we restored the Bell Tower School we actually had to prove that the project was going to go ahead. Grants became available after the project was started. $’s came from Service Canada, EI and BC Heritage. So it is possible that this renovation in the end could end up only costing the 26% that was mentioned. There is always surprises when you do a renovation. But I think where the town hall is now is the perfect place for it. I assume that council did much deliberation about this decision. Let’s see. It could be a building that we could all be proud of.”

Coun. Carolyne Austin tried to answer some of the debate with a post on her own Facebook page, saying, “To clarify, the reason that decision was In-Camera was because of land issues and for no other reason. It is being tossed around that Councillor McGonigle and myself are totally at fault for the decision which is untrue. There are five members on council and any decisions are by a majority. There is no mould or asbestos in the building, it has been tested. We have funds to cover the first phase and have applied for another grant as well. If we demolish it nothing else can be built on that land, ever!”

By Thursday afternoon Coun. Kristine Sandhu took to Facebook to set a few things straight.

“As a newly elected councillor and a resident of Lake Cowichan my entire life I find it very unsettling that we are trashing an entire council on misinformation out in social media. The current council took a few months to review current renovation plans for town office and Mayor Peters brought forth the possibility of purchasing the Kingdom Hall for $300,000 plus.

“We did a site visit and, for anyone who hasn’t gone inside KH, you would see that the floor layout is too small for the entire town hall to work out of. We talked about buying this building for council meetings only, but for that price tag I voted against the purchase due to price tag and also to sign a non-disclosure agreement.

“The entire council voted to move forward with town office reno, and not buy KHall.

“Any resident should phone a member on council and take a look at the renovation plans and see exactly how much funds we have to date for this project. Previous councils and our CAO have worked tirelessly over the years so that money is budgeted for the project. As for our projects that aren’t fully completed the answer is MONEY!! Municipalities like ours rely on grants for these projects, so when the grant funds don’t fully cover costs we continue to apply for more grants to finish the projects. Nobody wants their taxes to increase if we can find the grants to apply for them.”

Town CAO Joe Fernandez had explained again at the meeting that Lake Cowichan has been putting money aside for years towards the costs of renovating the town hall.

There have been several options looked at while councils tried to decide on the best town hall solution, including locating the town hall in a more general complex that would have gone where the library now stands.