Thursday, November 27, 2008

Money for City Stuff News

The Gummer Bummer

It should please City Hall to know that they’re not the only ones that can’t open a building on time downtown. Skyline, the company behind the preservation and reconstruction of the Gummer Building site, has said that they will miss their February 2009 deadline for opening the new commercial/office building, which is being integrated into the surviving visage of the heritage site. The faltering economy and the coming winter were cited as two reasons why the building won’t be completed, but no final completion date was given by the contractors.

In with the new; what with the old?

While the city and its recently hired replacement contractors, Alberici Constructors Ltd., work with all due hast to open the new City Administration building sometime early in the New Year, there is a forgotten component to this sad affair: the old City Hall. The original plan was to turn the current building at 59 Carden St. into a new courthouse following the completion and move into the new building, but now those plans are in limbo as the final tab for constructing the new city HQ hasn’t come in yet. Currently Alberici is being paid by the hour, at least until the full extent of what needs to be done to finish the new Hall has been tabulated. There’s also the small matter of the liens against the city saying that Guelph owes $12 million to old contractor Urbacon Buildings Corp, and possibly another $9.6 million in back pay to subcontractors. Lois Payne, the director of corporate services, says that the city will open competitive bidding process for the contract to transform the current City Hall.

Provincial cash for city streets, et al

Provincial surpluses have yielded $1.1 billion in extra cash and the Ontario government is spreading that around, with $11 million being given to Guelph for various infrastructure projects. The biggest piece of that money, $4 million, is being directed towards four big road projects as well as road repairs deferred because of an increase in the price of asphalt. The next biggest earmark is $1.1 million for to install an optical sort unit at the recycling facility, which will sort plastics more efficiently. Nearly $1 million more will go to improvements to parking at the Guelph Youth Music Centre; $810,000 will be directed towards renovations for the new, permanent homeless youth shelter on Norfolk; and the rest will be dispersed to improvements in Sleeman Centre, parks and recreation facilities, and storm water management projects. “This funding is great news” for the city, Mayor Karen Farbridge said in a press release. “It allows us to make much-needed and, in many cases, long-awaited investments in infrastructure for our community.”

State of the City: good, could be better

Now halfway through her mandate, Mayor Karen Farbridge delivered a State of the City address at a breakfast meeting hosted by the Guelph Chamber of Commerce. The presentation highlighted the City’s progress so far, as well as the priorities and plans for the next two years. The three main topics of the presentation were: municipal governance, including a principle-based governance framework that serves as a yardstick for the City’s progress; economic and financial performance indicators, which show how the City stacks up to other communities in areas such as taxation and jobs; and a new economic development strategy to respond to current economic challenges.

Farbridge pointed out that only 10 to 20 per cent of City resources available for strategic projects and emphasized the importance of Council’s rigorous priority-setting process. “Our principles inform our priorities,” she said, “And our priorities drive our progress.” Addressing the global economic crisis, Farbridge said that Guelph is in good shape to weather the storm with 59 jobs for every 100 people in the city. Farbridge also added that over the past year, the City has stabilized its debt and increased its reserves. The local tax burden for a residential bungalow is the lowest among a group of 10 comparable communities, while the tax burdens for the neighbourhood shopping, office, and industrial categories rank at about the middle of the group. 

The full speech is available on the City of Guelph website, but if you’d rather hear it in person, Farbridge will be delivering it at a free event put on by the Guelph Civic League in their new office at 10 Carden St. on December 13th at 10:30 am.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Arts, Projects and Attendance

Everybody get artsy now

City staff have recommended to council spending $4 million to build a new arts centre in Guelph from the 2012 and the 2013 budgets. It’s not a new idea, there have been numerous discussions about making the project since 2003 when the city commissioned a feasibility study into building one. Now the idea is still in a very preliminary stage, but Ann Pappert, the city's director of community services, told the Guelph Mercury that putting it on the books, budget-wise, so that the project can move along from a mere notion to the road to reality.

And it’s a reality a lot people in town have been saying has been a long time in the making. One of them is Sally Wismer, executive director of the Guelph Arts Council. "It would be a space where the arts community could come together, a meeting space where you could drop in and see what was going on," she said adding that she sees studios that could be rented to artists, meeting rooms, rehearsal space, a gallery, a gift store and a small performance space as some of the proposed amenities. As for location, the city wants to use an existing building rather than build something new. Singer/songwriter James Gordon said that he hopes to see the current Civic Museum converted to an Arts Centre, once the new museum opens in the Loretto Convent.

City invites feedback for big projects

Speaking of the Civic Museum, an open house is being held at its current location on Dublin Street Tuesday so that members of the community can review, evaluate and give feedback about the plans and designs for the new location at the Loretto Convent. The material on display will represent the conceptual design, building renderings and site plan drawings for the main museum, Children’s Gallery, Guelph History Gallery, temporary exhibit areas, classroom and programming area, artefact and archival storage, research room, and offices. The deadline for completion of the renovations is September 1st, 2010, with construction starting exactly one year before that. The open house starts at 6:30 pm at the Museum on 6 Dublin Street.

Speaking of open houses, community members are also invited to review and discuss the conceptual design of Eastview Community Park and Pollinators’ Park at the northwest corner of Watson Pkwy N and Eastview Rd. The open house is part of the Public Consultation Process on the proposed End Use Plan for the former Eastview Landfill Site. This open house is going down in Activity Room #4 at the Evergreen Senior Centre, 683 Woolwich St. from 4 pm to 6:30 pm, also on November 25th.

Valeriote ready to receive you

Newly-elected Liberal Member of Parliament Frank Valeriote was finally sworn in during a ceremony in Centre Block on Parliament Hill last Friday. Valeriote is one of 13 new Liberal MPs that was introduced in caucus and inducted into Parliament last week, and already Valeriote is setting a high bar for himself. The former lawyer says that he intends to be as available as possible to his constituents, while being highly visible in Ottawa while the House is in session.

Now pundits will point out that anything will be an improvement over the abysmal attendance record of Valeriote’s predecessor Brenda Chamberlain. In the last session of Parliament, a month before her retirement, Chamberlain ranked 299th out of 303, or the fifth worst, in attendance, being absent a total of 33 times between January 2006 and March 2008. But Valeriote’s seat is not the only thing of Chamberlain’s that he’s taking over. Valeriote is setting up shop at 40 Cork St. E., Chamberlain’s old constituency office. The new MP says he’s ready to hear from you, so send inquiries through e-mail to or by phone at 519-837-8276.

League gets new Watchtower

Looking for the Guelph Civic League? Have you tried their new location? On November 8th, the GCL hosted an open house for their new digs at 10 Carden Street, conveniently across the road from the new Civic Administration building. In an alternative universe, the move for the progressive grassroots organization would have been ideal, had the new City Hall opened on time. But at least some people got a new office this month.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Groceries, Parking and City Hall

New Company Ready to Finish City Hall

Alberici Constructors have been given the daunting task of completing the in-limbo City Hall construction project. The Burlington-based company was officially hired Thursday October 30 to oversee the remaining 10 per cent of construction in the Carden Street building. "It's a little bit of a discovery job," Steve Moffatt, senior vice-president of operations for Alberici Constructors Ltd, told the Guelph Mercury. "I don't know much about Urbacon and what happened. What I want to focus on is moving forward." Hans Loewig, Guelph’s chief administrative officer said that the company will be paid an hourly rate till the project’s complete, but the final tally’s not expected to exceed the remaining $3.8 million in the budget. The company says that they’ll need two weeks to put together a timeline for completion.

Good News South End! You’re Getting a Grocery Store… Eventually.

The south end of Guelph is getting closer to seeing a new grocery store from the Loblaws chain of stores being built in their side of town, but the there’s still no date in sights as to when exactly that will be. City council unanimously approved phase 1 of a secondary development at Gordon and Claire Roads. Loblaw Properties Limited, in turn, withdrew their appeal to the Ontario Municipal Board which was scheduled to start later this month. The appeal was in response to a change in Guelph's large mixed-use planning policies that effectively rescinded an early 2006 approval for the site. Phase 1 calls for a bank, transit terminal and three smaller buildings, as well as some councillor added amendments to take the environment and aesthetics into consideration. Still, there’s no word on when a new grocery store might be built, and according to Steve Thompson, director of planning development and approvals for LPL, the evolving company directive is the result of changing local business competition, the declined economy and staff changes at head office.

Parking Plans Publicized

A public open house to look over the plans for a parking garage at Wilson and Carden Streets took place last week. The intention of the facility is to make sure that it fits downtown both aesthetically and functionally. Aside from six-storeys worth of parking, the conceptual design revealed features including brick and stone facades, street-level commercial space, public washrooms, LEED sustainability measures and parking for at least 30 bicycles. The preliminary plan will see construction begin next August with a completion date of May 2010 in mind. All-in-all, the projects is expected to cost roughly $14.75 million, and with a planned 395 spaces, it means a $37,000 per parking spot price tag.

Temporary Shelter Opens

In a follow-up to last week’s story about the tent city protest in St. George’s Square, the city’s temporary youth shelter on Delhi St. opened on schedule last Wednesday, November 5. The shelter, operated by Wyndham House at the Delhi Community Centre, will have 12 temporary and emergency beds for youths and will be open from 6:30 pm to 8 am daily. "City Council committed funds for the shelter during last year’s budget process in order to provide supports for local youth in need," said Mayor Karen Farbridge. "We are moving forward as quickly as possible with the permanent shelter, and in the meantime, we are pleased to be able to offer space at our Delhi Street facility."

Bodies Found (No, Not Like That)

It was a bit of a Halloween surprise for work crews repairing the foundations of the Church of Our Lady on October 23 when they came across human remains while digging in the parking lot. To answer your first question: no, they’re not fresh. The approximately 30 graves belonged to early Guelph settlers buried between 1832 and 1847 and were parishioners of St. Patrick’s Church, the first Church on the hill in Guelph. This isn’t the first time in recent years that digging in downtown has led to the discovery of skeletons beneath the pavement. A number of remains were found beneath Baker Street during repairs to that road in 2005.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Week-Long Protests to Fight Homelessness Wraps

About 10 local activists spent the week protesting the lack of permanent emergency housing for homeless youth in Guelph by erecting a tent city in St. George’s Square. With nothing to protect them from the cold except for a few canvas tents and a blue tarp, the group hoped to draw attention to the City’s as yet unfulfilled promise to replace the old Change Now Youth Drop-In Centre with a new, permanent shelter. Under a banner stating, “City Hall Lies - Homeless Youth: Fight to Win!” the protestors hoped a practical and peaceful demonstration might light a fire under City Hall to deliver, especially with winter coming.

This story began in June 2007 when Change Now was suddenly and unceremoniously closed. The Youth Drop-In and Emergency Shelter was located in the basement of Norfolk United Church and on the morning of Friday June 15, members of Change Now’s Board of Directors showed up and ordered everyone out. No reasons were given as the youth were herded out and the staff were given pink slips. An impromptu protest took place in St. George’s Square all weekend, as no answer were given as to why, and the doors to Change Now remained shut with nothing but the words: “Change Now is permanently closed” on the door. The exact reasons were never given. At the time, all board co-president Li Peckan could say was, “The programs at Change Now were no longer able to provide for the needs of the young people.”

Change Now was jointly funded by The United Way and Wellington County Social Services. In the wake of the closure, Morris Twist, then executive director of the United Way, said that it was his hope that a new shelter would be open by September ’07. Of course, this didn’t happen. The concern on the part of the city and all organizations involved was money. Norfolk United didn’t charge rent for Change Now, but wherever a new youth shelter lie, then chances were that rent would have to be an expense taken into consideration. Temporary provisions were set up at Wyndham House and Our Place, and the former Change Now funds were funnelled into these outlets.

Local anti-poverty activists continued to push for a new shelter saying that these supposed temporary measures were no where near enough. At council, the debate mostly focused on funding and how much each stakeholder would/could invest in the development of a new shelter for youth in Guelph. After months of wrangling, the city decided to go it alone as the sole municipal funder, but still working with the Province and the United Way, and get moving on finding a new youth shelter with an opening date of October 2008. Obviously, since last week was the end of October, the inaugural did not happen as scheduled.

However there is a site, bought by the city, that’s ready to serve as the new shelter. The thing of it is that the house at 18 Norfolk Street requires some major renovations in order for it to become safe and liveable. These improvements aren’t expected to be completed until the spring. The Norfolk Street house is currently expected to be opened in May 2009 with an initial offering of eight beds, which may be increased depending on zoning issues. A temporary shelter at 65 Delhi Street, set-up by Wyndham House through $230,000 from the city, will have 12 beds available to youth aged 16 to 21 seeking emergency shelter

But back at tent city, protestors are keen to point out that, according to some estimates, between 150 to 200 homeless young people in Guelph. Many of those people, since the closure of Change Now, have had almost no support, and more importantly, no where to go. “When Change Now got shut down, they promised us a new shelter,” Jeff Way, 25, told the Guelph Mercury. “That shelter ended up not being opened, and here it is, a year and half later. They tell us they have another shelter, but it might take a year to do the renovations.”