Sticker shock would have been a reasonable response to this week’s update on the Junction East project.
After all, the project’s updated cost estimate of $93.2 million came in at roughly double the its original price tag of $46.5 million – a figure that has underpinned public discourse on the project for the past few years.
There was indication from city administration last summer that the project’s construction costs had increased by 21 per cent, but that estimate still pales in comparison to the figure presented to city council during a special meeting on Tuesday.
There’s a great deal of context behind Junction East’s ballooning costs that taxpayers need to understand, city special projects manager Eleethea Savage told Sudbury.com this week.
“It’s really not the same project,” she said of the Junction East proposed today compared to the project first proposed in 2017. “We’ve gone from a library/art gallery to a cultural centre.”
Junction East, as it’s currently proposed, is a four-storey, 104,000-square-foot building designed by Toronto-based WZMH Architects to house a new central library and the Art Gallery of Sudbury. It also has accommodations for the Sudbury Multicultural and Folk Arts Association.
The project has changed dramatically since it was first proposed, Savage said, with city administrators and architects following the direction provided to them by both city council and members of the public after a year’s worth of public consultation.
These changes have joined today’s realities of a COVID-era construction industry by raising the project’s overall cost, she said, adding that rising costs are “impacting everyone, not just this project.”
The genesis for Junction East came out of a 2015 public call-out for proposals for “transformative and shovel-ready projects,” Savage said.
The original incarnation of a new library/art gallery, which the city’s original $46.5-million cost estimate is ascribed to, would have had it take the place of the Sudbury Community Arena when its operations shift to the Kingsway Entertainment District. Some components of the arena would have been retained in the library/art gallery structure, but the bulk of it would have been torn down to make way for the new facility.
Under this plan, the new library/art gallery would be accompanied by the so-called Synergy Centre, which would consist of a conference and performance centre. Combined, the two projects have also been referred to as “The Junction.” The library/art gallery was proposed to come in at 61,800 net square feet, which is the figure the city and various media outlets have been using since that time, usually rounding it up to 62,000 square feet and rarely, if ever, clarifying that the estimate is a “net” square footage.
The city’s website continued to employ the 62,000-square-foot estimate until this week, when it was first updated to 92,700 and then later updated to 104,000 square feet. This latest number indicates an increase of 42,000 square feet when compared to the original estimate.
At no point in this transition was it clarified whether the city was using a “net” square footage or “gross.”
“Net square footage accounts for only the space required to carry out the program and/or functions of the library and art gallery,” the city clarified to Sudbury.com through communications staff this week.
“It does not include items such as common areas, corridors, washrooms, stairwells, mechanical rooms, elevators or even the thickness of interior and exterior walls. It is related to what is called the functional program or detailed space requirements.”
The original library/art gallery proposal at the Sudbury Community Arena site was actually 92,700 gross square feet in size, the city’s correspondence clarified, which makes this week’s updated estimate of 104,000 square feet an increase of 11,300 compared to the original plan.
In 2019, city council shifted the library/art gallery eastward to its current location next to the Sudbury Theatre Centre building between Paris Street and Shaughnessy Street. It was renamed Junction East, while Synergy Centre, slated to be located on the Minto Street Lot across the street from the Sudbury Community Arena, was renamed Junction West.
This remains the planned location for Junction West, despite a recommendation from city administration this week for its $58-million in funding to be reallocated to the Junction East project, effectively killing Junction West until such time as more funding is allocated.
“There is a cost difference between the two (locations), and that’s where some of those cost increases are coming from,” Savage said, noting that the current Shaughnessy Street location required the city to acquire private property, which doesn’t come free. Recent ground testing of the new site uncovered unstable ground, which also contributed to the new location’s cost.
The current proposal’s 11,300-square-foot jump from its previous incarnation came as a result of its inclusion of main-floor space for the Sudbury Multicultural and Folk Arts Association and an inclined walkway between the main and second floors. Additional floor space was also added for a common area in the lobby, which an email from the city notes as being “best practice for this type of large and iconic facility.”
The current budget includes:
- $52.8 million: Building construction
- $2.7 million: Site and landscaping
- $9.6 million: Soft costs, including fees, furniture, equipment and permits
- $9.8 million: Contingencies
- $6.1 million: Enhanced sustainability recommendation
- $4.4 million: Enhanced accessibility recommendation
- $700,000: Public art recommendation
- $5.5 million: Other project costs, such as administration and land acquisition
- $1.6 million: HST
The $4.4 million in enhanced accessibility includes such components as an inclined walkway, which Savage said is a priority that came up a great deal during public consultation.
“It’s also a very physical indication of council’s commitment to accessibility,” she said, adding that while an elevator already serves the same function, an inclined walkway adds an enhancement to the accessibility effort.
The $6.1 million in enhanced sustainability efforts relates to environmentally-minded components intended to make the building a net-zero carbon emissions facility. This, Savage said, is in keeping with the city’s elected officials declaring a climate emergency in 2019 and their adoption of the Community Energy and Emissions Plan as a result. This shift in city council priorities occurred after the original library/art gallery project was proposed.
The $700,000 allocated toward public art is in keeping with the city’s Public Art Policy, wherein one per cent of the project’s construction budget and contingencies go toward public art to cover the costs of materials, fabrication, transportation, site preparation, artist fees and other related things.
Now that city council has been presented with the latest information on Junction East, Savage said that she and other members of city administration anticipate a steady flow of questions from councillors between now and when the project is next discussed in council chambers in a few weeks.
“We’ll come back with a report to council that summarizes all that … and then we’ll be asking for specific direction on a number of those decision points.”
Although a plan for the building was presented earlier this week, it remains flexible.
In a report issued by city administration earlier this week it’s noted that there has been some disappointment expressed that the Sudbury Theatre Centre isn’t physically connected to the Junction East building.
“An Inflatable airtight structure, or air tube structure to offer a visually appealing temporary sheltered connection, could be used in winter months,” the report notes, projecting such an addition to cost as much as $1.5 million.
City council is expected to make project design, financial plan and operational plan decisions next month, and the proposed timeline would see a tender and contract issued during the first quarter of 2023 and the building to open in the spring of 2025.
Additional insight on Junction East, including the results of a public consultation process, presentations, reports and promotional videos, can be found on the city’s website by clicking here.
Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for Sudbury.com.