Station House project moves forward

While there’s general support for the project, some councillors have concerns over the process that’s being undertaken

AdvantageHOPE has been given the green light to manage the Station House project.

Council voted 4-2 in favour of finalizing an agreement on Monday night, which will see AdvantageHOPE move forward with the initial stages of transforming the historic building into the community’s visitor centre and museum.

“We’re faced with an opportunity here. I personally think that investigating at this point is very appropriate,” said Mayor Wilfried Vicktor. “We all have to remember that the current visitor info centre is of value to the community. We have a sizable chunk of prime real estate that would be available for sale. That is something obviously that council has in their back pocket to reinvest into this project.”

The agreement with AdvantageHOPE was revised in the last couple weeks to give council the ability to terminate the project at any time without cause and reconsider the fate of the Station House should the financial risks be too high.

The district has capped the budget for the repair project at $114,000 for 2015, which includes authorizing no more than $25,000 of the allocated budget to perform a full risk assessment and put together a full project plan. This includes examining the structural integrity and building envelope; site access, traffic flow and parking; and hazardous materials. AdvantageHOPE is also responsible for providing a budget and timeline for the project.

In order for the project to proceed beyond the first step and for any more of the budget to be released, or for any additional funds to be authorized, council must approve the risk assessment report and project plan at the first council meeting in April.

Under the agreement, the fee for property management services are 15 per cent of the total cost of work, earned as the cost of work accrues. For example, the district’s contribution to these fees for the first year will be limited to $17,100 (15 per cent of the initial funding allocation of $114,000).

“If there’s things that turn up during that risk assessment, council’s going to have to look at the information that comes back and decide what the next best course of action is,” said Tammy Shields, executive director of AdvantageHOPE. “With the risk assessment and project plan in hand, if council deems it not feasible to proceed with the project further or they’re not comfortable with the risks that have been identified, then there’s no further release of funds and the project is basically stalled until council determines what to do with the Station House.”

Shields pointed out that AdvantageHOPE was created by the district to carry out the function of economic development. She said the unique Society structure allows for better leveraging of grant funding and the use of volunteers.

As part of the initial stage of the project, AdvantageHOPE will begin a public consultation process and fundraising efforts.

“AdvantageHOPE acts as an instrument of the district, fulfilling the mandate on behalf of the district,” said Shields. “Through leveraging the unique strengths of AdvantageHOPE, we think that Station House has the potential to be a true community project.”

While there’s general support for the Station House project at the council table, some councillors have concerns over the process that’s being undertaken. Coun. Donna Kropp would like to have seen project management done by district staff, rather then contracted out. Coun. Heather Stewin wanted to know where the district’s current budget stands before approving any funds for this project. She also was not comfortable with the 15 per cent project management fee. Coun. Bob Erickson suggested the district purchase the Station House property from the Provincial Transportation Finance Authority (PTFA) before investing money in building repairs.

There were also mixed opinions in the audience. Don Garrett spoke on behalf of the Hope Ratepayers and noted several issues with the current process. He believes there shouldn’t be sole sourcing of project management to AdvantageHOPE and contractors should have had an opportunity to bid on the agreement. He also raised concerns over traffic flow, building access and land ownership. However, John Fortoloczky, the district’s chief administrative officer, assured council and the public that the PTFA will work with the district to find solutions for building access.

Other residents in the audience expressed their support for the project and applauded the district’s efforts in getting more information on the current state of the building before investing in repairs. Preserving the historic building was also noted as a priority.