Newly projected to cost $98.5 million, the Junction East Cultural Hub received city council’s go-ahead during tonight’s meeting, eliciting cheers from supporters sitting in the gallery.
The vote in favour of the new central library/art gallery building was near-unanimous, with only Ward 11 Coun. Bill Leduc and Ward 2 Coun. Michael Vagnini standing against it.
“Let’s get the priorities done and let’s leave the niceties for another time,” Vagnini said, adding that he wants to “err on the side of caution,” given today’s economic realities.
While also concerned about the project’s cost, Leduc argued that a property overlooking Ramsey Lake should be looked at instead, as it would carry much greater potential.
Mayor Brian Bigger shot this notion down by pointing out that its current proposed location, on what is now a parking lot next to the Sudbury Theatre Centre on Shaughnessy Street in downtown Sudbury, has been long-established and worked toward by city administration.
Although the balance of city council voted in favour of the project, its current $98.5-million price tag still raised several councillors’ eyebrows.
“Yes, I’m shocked at the price, that’s a fact,” Ward 3 Coun. Gerry Montpellier said during tonight’s meeting, later adding that he believes in the project because it will be owned by taxpayers and will help Greater Sudbury “shine.”
“This will make us look like a large city in Northern Ontario,” he said, and the community appears to largely support it despite its cost.
“There are no legal challenges, there are no objections, no protests,” he said, alluding to there being a very different story when it comes to the Kingsway Entertainment District. “This is impressive. This to me dictates something that is wanted.”
“It has evolved from being a library with an art gallery to a community building housing a library, an art gallery and a multicultural centre,” Strategic Initiative, Communications and Citizen Services director Ian Wood said.
Opening the building up more for the community resulted in a “larger, grander type of space … that’s very light and airy and much more appropriate to a modern type of municipal community building.”
Its cost was projected at $93.2 million in early May, but $3.6 million has been added to accommodate for a cost-escalation allowance in reaction to market conditions. The balance of the price jump has been attributed to “further refinement of some design details.”
“Nonetheless, an ongoing dialogue is taking place between the architects, the cost consultants, the project team and the partners as choices can be made as to how to address construction cost pressures,” according to a report by Wood debated tonight.
“The Project Team is confident that this process will allow the project to be hard capped at $98.5 million and that this total project cost is adequate to deliver the project Council has approved.”
The tendering process will be the true “litmus test,” Wood said, adding he’s confident the city has worked in enough wiggle room within the existing budget to adjust things along the way to prevent the project from exceeding it.
Incorporated within the current price tag is a $6.6-million net-zero carbon emissions option, an enhanced accessibility option expected to cost $4.7 million and a public art commitment of $700,000.
Inclusive of these options, the construction of the building is projected to cost $81.6 million. A project contingency budget of $14 million is on top of that alongside other project costs, such as administration and land acquisition, bringing it to its current $98.5-million total.
To fund the project, the city has proposed reallocating a $58-million debenture originally set aside for the proposed Junction West project (nearby convection and performance centre alongside a private hotel), drawing $1 million from reserves, using $3.1 million from project partners and accepting $37.2 million from potential external funding.
A question mark lingers around the “external funding” component, although Wood clarified the city has already started reaching out to the federal and provincial governments and that conversations with the area’s two Liberal MPs, Viviane Lapointe (Sudbury) and Marc Serre (Nickel Belt) have been “extremely positive.”
In the event any of these funding sources do not bear fruit, city council has approved that funding can be provided via the 2023, 2024 and 2025 budget allocations toward capital projects (infrastructure).
While life was injected into the Junction East project tonight, the Junction West project was effectively killed.
In addition to having its municipal funding reallocated to Junction East, staff was directed to suspend the Junction West/Synergy Centre project (Synergy Centre was an earlier incarnation of the project).
This was a direction Ward 4 Coun. Geoff McCausland opposed by voting against a motion to suspend Junction West.
“I hope that at a future time that can go back on the table, because to me that was the one that would make the biggest difference to Sudburians,” he said.
With city council approving Junction East tonight, staff is expected to develop tender documents and detailed drawings necessary to issue a construction tender for the first quarter of 2023. The tender will be issued to the four recently prequalified bidders. A total of 10 companies took initial interest in the project, and all four of those to submit bids were prequalified. These include:
- EllisDon Corporation (Mississauga)
- Bird Construction Group (Mississauga)
- Aquicon Construction Co. Ltd. (Brampton)
- PCL Constructors Northern Ontario Inc. (Sudbury)
The building is anticipated to open in the spring of 2025, which is around the same time the Kingsway Entertainment District (municipal arena/events centre alongside a private hotel and casino) is projected to open on The Kingsway.
Junction East is projected to cost the city $1.6 million in operating costs during its first year, which a Junction East Cultural Campus Committee will be charged with paring down in subsequent years by finding revenue streams.
The city has also recommended the establishment of a new reserve fund, which would set aside $1.2 million per year toward the building’s future capital needs or replacement.
Although the building’s key tenants will include a new central library, the Art Gallery of Sudbury and the Sudbury Multicultural and Folk Arts Association, the library will fill out the lion’s share of its square footage.
With various meeting rooms and other amenities, it was clarified repeatedly tonight their allocated space is not “just” for a library, with chief librarian and CEO Brian Harding noting to Sudbury.com after the meeting it will offer “modern state-of-the-art library services.”
Enthused by tonight’s decision of city council, he said the results were exactly what people associated with the library have been looking forward to for decades.
“Various library boards have been waiting for over 30 years for this moment,” he said. “We’ve been trying to build a new central library for decades and have gone through several attempts, so … we couldn’t have hoped for a better outcome.”
Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for Sudbury.com.