Extra eyes on Sears project not needed: council

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By Pam Wright
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

A Chatham councillor’s attempt to put another set of eyes on municipal spending on C-K’s Downtown Chatham Centre project didn’t make the cut.

A motion brought forward by Allyson Storey to secure a third-party consultant to promote transparency failed in part. It ended up being split into three segments as councillors weighed in, peppering administration with questions.

Storey said her request was simple. It included asking that council hire someone to oversee spending and receive timely updates, including costs and project milestones.

“Whatever is ultimately decided as we move forward, I believe if we receive this information along the way, that that will help us make informed decisions,” Storey explained. “It fulfills our council’s duties to manage taxpayer’s dollars wisely.”

Storey residents are confused about the project’s costs, noting it has the potential to be “fairly expensive.”

“We all do want a healthy downtown but we also all want a process that is open and transparent,” the councillor said.

If the DCC plan comes to fruition, the C-K Civic Centre will move to the old Sears building. The Chatham-Kent Public Library and the Chatham-Kent Museum would also be incorporated into the space.

But after much discussion, council ultimately decided that more oversight wasn’t necessary, as  hiring a third-party consultant to review numbers would add another $50,000 to $75,000 to the project, something council couldn’t get on board with

According to staff, an architect and a consulting company are currently working on the DCC Imagine C-K proposal. Engineering and infrastructure services general manager Edward Soldo, said that consulting firm Nustadia is working on costing details, with a report slated to come before council in July.

Chatham Coun. Brock McGregor said that while he appreciated the spirit of the motion, similar oversight is already in place.

“If we’re duplicating work that’s already happening, it might not be best practice to go ahead with that type of expense,” McGregor said.

But some members of council shared Storey’s concerns. East Kent Coun. John Wright said the project costs change as they go.

“There will be changes,” he said. “A third-party person might keep the costs in line a little better.”

Soldo pointed out that there will be three more opportunities for council to review the project’s costing before final decisions are made, adding he didn’t recommend hiring another consultant.

In speaking to the motion, Chatham Coun. Michael Bondy asked if the cost of fixing the Civic Centre would be examined.

“To me, that’s the big question,” he said, adding he’d like to see those costs “picked apart.”

In response, Soldo said the building condition assessment was compiled by an outside firm.

The first portion of the motion to hire a consultant failed 12 to 6; the second part asking for monthly updates failed in a 9-9 tie vote; however, the third segment asking that reports come to council in advance of a meeting where a decision would be made passed 17-0.

Chatham-Kent has already committed $2 million to do its due diligence in exploring the DCC Imagine C-K proposal. A total of $550,000 has already been spent to date, Soldo said.

In response to the motion, staff has also committed to providing council with critical information so they have time to review it before they are faced with a decision.

Fixing the Civic Centre is estimated at $37 million, while the total cost of moving to the DCC project is set at $53 million. Selling the library and Civic Centre are expected to bring in around $9 million.

Chatham-Kent voted to purchase the Sears building earlier this year for $2.9 million.

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