New fire station plans on brief pause while added costs of ongoing projects is determined

April 27, 2023   ·   0 Comments

Town staff caution against net-zero design to maintain healthy debt rating 

By Sam Odrowski

Town council is waiting to see what the additional costs are for active capital projects across town before moving forward with the new Orangeville Fire Station.

A motion that would direct town staff to continue with the design and construction of the fire station and have staff report back with a status update, including estimated costs, once the project’s tendered was recommended by staff during council’s April 17 meeting.

However, council unanimously voted to refer the item back to staff and have them return in four to six weeks with added costs for ongoing capital projects.

“I think this is starting to be a bad deal,” said Deputy Mayor Todd Taylor. “I think we’re in a lot of trouble, and I think we should stop what we’re doing.”

Taylor said the town should pause the project until it better understands the costs for the new stainless steel pool upgrade at the Alder Recreation Centre and the renovations to the Mill Street Library, which are expected to be over budget. 

“I think we should understand what the costs are on this, and then I think we should have a conversation and regroup.” Taylor said. “I think this is ill advised to continue down the road at this point.”

Taylor said while the town needs a fire hall and has the land, council doesn’t have all the facts right now on costs for other projects and should hold off until it does for a more fulsome discussion.

Council currently has $16,507,966 budgeted for the new 29,000-square-foot fire station, with $2,729,290 already spent on the land purchase.

Coun. Debbie Sherwood said she recalls one of her first meetings as councillor in 2018 and seeing the original cost estimate for the new fire station.

“I remember thinking wow that’s a lot of money – $8 million – and now I look here five years later and we’re looking at $16 to potentially $28 million and that just absolutely blows my mind,” she remarked.

Orangeville’s general manager of community services, Heather Savage, noted the challenges in predicting costs and that initial estimates often increase until the project goes to tender.

“The other challenge is that if you choose to delay this project, it means construction will be delayed and the cost of construction will go up,” she explained.

Town staff are advising Orangeville council against proceeding with building the new fire station to net-zero standards, as initially planned because it creates an added cost of $10 million. Despite a $1.5 million loan and low-interest rate offered if the town builds to net zero, Savage warned that the added cost would compromise Orangeville’s debt-to-equity ratio.

Deputy treasurer Mandip Jhajj followed up, saying there is room to take on additional debt, but if ongoing capital projects require additional financing, they don’t recommend it.

Council still needs to formally decide whether the fire station will be built to net-zero standards. Instead, council deferred the fire station motion back to staff until they have more information.

A decision is expected to be made in the next six weeks once the true costs are known for the Mill Street Library and Alder Recreation Centre pool.

Orangeville council’s next meeting is May 1.

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