The Junction East Cultural Hub project has been put on hold, with the $98.5-million building slated to be replaced by a smaller build costing $65 million.
This, following a motion Mayor Paul Lefebvre tabled during Tuesday night’s city council meeting to unanimous support from voting city council members.
The Junction East Cultural Hub is a long-talked-about library/art gallery project whose most recent incarnation was projected to be a 104,000-square-foot building designed by Toronto-based WZMH Architects and built next to the Sudbury Theatre Centre downtown.
Lefebvre’s motion, which he sent to city council members hours before Tuesday’s meeting, has suspended the project in its previous incarnation.
The city has been directed to continue working with the project’s partners, including the Greater Sudbury Public Library, Sudbury Multicultural Folk Arts association and Art Gallery of Sudbury, to look at other options to pare its total cost down to $65 million.
The intent, Lefebvre said, is to maintain the project’s original goals but shrink a new build down to approximately 65,000 square feet. Existing infrastructure might also be reconfigured.
“The current price tag limits our ability to invest in other areas that require our support,” he said, listing recreation, roads and housing as a few examples off the top of his head.
The $65-million direction isn’t an arbitrary number, he clarified to Sudbury.com after Tuesday’s meeting, noting that the city is currently looking at a build cost of approximately $1,000 per square foot, and that the city has already secured debt funding of $68 million toward the project.
The project’s 104,000-square-foot incarnation approved by city council in June, 2022, included up to $37.2 million in “potential external funding,” which they’ve yet to secure from senior levels of government. Although Lefebvre clarified the city would continue advocating for government funding, at its new $65-million price point, they can proceed regardless.
Work has already begun on the Junction East Cultural Hub, with ground preparation work taking place last year to relocate an Enbridge gas line from the proposed site, and geotechnical work taking place at a parking lot.
WZMH Architects completed the detailed design phase approximately 10 days ago, said Ian Wood, the city’s executive director of strategic initiatives, communications and citizen services.
Next up would have been proceeding with working drawings and issuing a request for proposals for its build. However, the city worked a jumping off point into their contract with the design team, which Lefebvre took advantage of with Tuesday’s motion.
Although the city has spent approximately $3.66 million on the Junction projects to date (including $3.32 million for Junction East and $343,000 for the already-suspended Junction West convention and performance centre project), Wood clarified these aren’t wasted dollars.
“A great deal of work has been done in terms of understanding the needs of the occupants of the building, the functional program, how things work together, and that’s the type of information that absolutely is not lost and can be applied to a reduced-footprint project,” Wood said.
He confirmed to city council that city staff can prepare a report with options for alternative $65-million Junction East projects by the end of June, per Lefebvre’s motion.
Although supportive of Lefebvre’s motion, Ward 10 Coun. Fern Cormier took issue with comments from Ward 7 Coun. Natalie Labbée, who said that reducing the Junction East project’s budget will prove to residents that city council is listening to them by reading their letters to the editor and emails, and listening to their phone calls.
“If we’re going to govern based on editorial comment, then we’re in serious trouble,” he said, pointing to the Big Nickel, the Bell Park boardwalk and Science North as examples of projects lambasted in letters to the editor of the day as being examples of wasteful spending, and which many residents treasure today.
When it comes to demands for municipal funds, he said, “There’s never a good time, there are always going to be other pressures.”
The Junction projects have been bandied about for years and have taken on various forms leading up to the most recent $98.5-million incarnation, now pared down to a $65-million build.
“This thing has been torn apart, put back together, turned upside down, put right-side up and looked at every which way,” Cormier said. “I don’t want our decisions in this chamber to be driven by the very vocal minority that we hear from.”
Although Lefebvre’s motion received unanimous support, Ward 3 Coun. Gerry Montpellier did not attend the meeting so did not have the opportunity to vote.
Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for Sudbury.com.