By Alison Taylor
In one of its closest votes this term council Monday quashed plans for an $8.7 million renovation and expansion of municipal hall.
It was a 4 to 3 vote against staff’s recommendations to make the 33-year-old hall bigger, more efficient and a safer work environment for staff at that price tag.
“I’m quite frankly embarrassed by municipal hall,” said Mayor Ken Melamed, who supported the plans. “We’re going to be increasingly embarrassed as we get closer to (the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games).
“It goes to our image in the world.”
Councillors Ralph Forsyth and Nancy Wilhelm-Morden also supported the plans, not without some concerns, but their arguments weren’t enough to convince their colleagues.
Councillor Tim Wake kicked off the dissenting voices on council, calling the $8.7 million plan “outrageous.” He believes the problems at the hall, including overcrowding and building code requirements, can be solved for roughly $2-3 million.
“Clearly we face a problem,” he admitted. “I just think there’s a lot of options here that we haven’t looked at.”
Chief among his concerns was growing the hall an additional 11,000 square feet — almost a 65 per cent increase of the current 17,000 square foot building. The plans included an expansion at the north and east ends of the building, which would, in part, encroach onto the parking lot. The additional space would not only create a new council chambers and customer service centre but also meet the demands of a growing staff.
“It’s the expansion part that I’m struggling with,” said Wake.
He said he would like to improve the quality of the building without making the existing footprint bigger.
Wilhelm-Morden said there’s a fundamental misconception that the hall is big enough right now. Eight full time staff members do not have a desk. They rotate from meeting rooms to work stations of staff that are sick or on maternity leave. A further eight positions at the hall are in the budget but have not been hired because of the lack of space.
“Right now we can’t house our staff,” said Wilhelm-Morden.
The hall has workspace for 75 staff and related support areas. It is not clear how much the staff will have to grow to meet the demands of hosting the 2010 Games. Nor is it clear how much those demands will drop after the Games and when Whistler reaches buildout — its self-imposed cap on growth.
“I just don’t understand why reaching buildout won’t see a reduction in staffing needs,” said Councillor Gord McKeever.