The Sting, Guelph style

Posted August 13, 2012

First maestro, a little Scott Joplin ragtime, please.

The news that the city was seriously considering a new downtown library came from the chief librarian Kitty Pope.

At the time, she announced the cost would be $63 million plus another $10 million to outfit the new digs. Not only that, but she estimated completion by 2017. Further it was revealed that a Hamilton architectural consultant and a New York City design consultant had been hired to produce preliminary design elements of the proposed 93,000 square foot project to be built on the Baker Street parking lot.

Ms. Pope became the straw person in this exercise. Friends of Farbridge (FOB), Ken Hammill and his wife are promoting the downtown library project.

Then Council declared in its latest capital forecast that the downtown library was put aside for ten years.

In typical Farbridge fashion, the city has hired out-of-town experts to develop a comprehensive business plan for the project. It has now evolved into a public-private enterprise, complete with hi-rise condo atop the library, retail space, and underground parking to replace lost spaces on the parking lot.

See where we are going with this. First, is there no one on staff that can develop a business plan? Second, when did the library get pushed up the capital forecast schedule by eight years?

Taxpayers must be scratching their heads trying to understand what has happened here. If the city’s debt exceeds its own guidelines, why are they even thinking about this project?

There is no quarrel about the need for an upgraded downtown library, but one with 93,000 square feet costing $73 million plus?

It was quoted by a city official that when the capital forecast was approved last fall, “the door was left open for consideration of a new library.” Why bother to have a capital forecast if the intention is not to conform to it?

Now we have to look at two other capital projects that council has proposed. The South end recreational facility pegged at $37 million, and the proposed riverside park at Wellington and Gordon streets to cost an estimated $16 million.

Where do they fit in this apparent renewed effort to plunk another $73 million downtown?

If Mayor Farbridge is anything, she is a determined woman.

Her vision of a vibrant and exciting downtown to be enjoyed by families, and a centre of Guelph culture, is fraught with her desire to leave office as the mayor who revitalized downtown Guelph … at any cost.

No amount of taxpayer subsidized hi-rise downtown condominiums or splash pools or libraries or pussyfooting with the University hierarchy can change the booze magnet for the young that exists downtown.

In six years, the Mayor and her majority of council have failed to address this in a comprehensive manner. No action plan exists because of a lack of political will. It’s plain council doesn’t want to address it because of the liquor clublobby, (33 bars operating at last count) and the ties to the University.

In fact, the same problems exist with student housing in single-family neighbourhoods where houses have been converted to accommodate mini-apartment units.

Council did look at the scores of complaints of residents, regarding the growing influx of student housing in their neighbourhoods.

The decision was made that the issue was too hot to handle and staff advised that stopping the practice would result in action by the Ontario civil Rights Board. This council has the tools to protect the single-family neighbourhoods. Stop issuing building permits for these conversions and enforce the bylaws for renovations that have been done without a permit.

The question is should Guelph taxpayers finance a new downtown $73 million Library to provide service to those wanting to use computers?  The modern library has evolved and the decline of book borrowing due to Internet access and other cultural changes has made a huge library unnecessary.

No thanks. We’ve already experienced the Mayor’s Taj Mahal syndrome with the $50 million overbuilt compost plant and collection system.

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17 Comments

Filed under Between the Lines

17 responses to “The Sting, Guelph style

  1. Jerry

    Don’t you realize this is for her to look good coming into the following
    election.She will never win but she has got to get all her pegions (supporters) in line.So she can say she tried and lost.Remember
    most of the pegions(support)comes from the university.
    And you mentioned the mayors 2 top taj mahals but you left one out the
    over budget,over the top lawsuits city hall.

  2. Glen N. Tolhurst

    Gerry:
    Excellent story but you missed an alternative. When the compost plant falls flat on its face due to low volumes, microbes being too hot or too cold, and extravagant costs per tonne of compost destined waste, the facility can be converted to a library. This is known as “thinking outside the box” or “green waste bin” in this case. That is plan B to confirm council’s legacy left to the taxpayers of Guelph; stench and all, with not all of it coming from composting waste.

  3. Ruby

    In the 2002 Library Needs Assessment & Relocation/Redevelopment Study, http://www.library.guelph.on.ca/administration/doclib/docs/gplrelocation.pdf

    The new main library was to cost $19, 027,480 (construction costs, site development, ancillary costs, library furnishings and equipment, relocation/moving costs, parking associated with a central library) and be 64, 765 square feet.

    The population of Guelph was also estimated to grow from 105, 197 (2001) to 129, 649 (2016).

    The new library is to cost $73 million with 93,000 square feet for a population that is currently sitting at about 141, 097 according to the 2011 Stats Can Census. http://www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2011/as-sa/fogs-spg/Facts-cma-eng.cfm?Lang=Eng&TAB=1&GK=CMA&GC=550

    That is a 265% increase in the cost of the library(rounded up the 2002 cost to $20 million) over a ten year period (2002 to 2012) for an increase of population of 34.13% (2001 to 2011).

    That is another garbage plant fiasco in the making for sure.

    • Ruby: Thanks for the 2002 data. When Karen Farbridge was elected Mayor, one of her main objectives was to build a new downtown library. Almost dix years later, that promise remains unfulfilled. Taxpayers are caught in a vice-like grip by elected officials who have a vision of the city that is counter to what most citizens want and eschew financial common sense. The only thing I question is the current population of Guelph (according to StatsCan) of 141,097. Guelph is unique in that it possesses a city, (the University), of some 22,000 who arrive in the fall and mostly leave in the spring. Did the StatsCan survey factor this into the total? My understanding is the permanent population of the city is about 120,000. If true, this would skew your numbers creating an even more dismal financial picture.

  4. Farbridge is clearly a legacy builder just like David Miller was. I fail to see the need for a new library myself. Personally, I like to buy books. And, by books, I mean actual books. Buying books keeps the industry afloat. A couple of times a year, preceding a vacation, my wife and I will go to the library and borrow a stack of travel guides. Aside from that, I don’t have a lot of use for libraries. I realize that some people do, but honestly, in my visits to the Guelph library … it just never seems very busy.

    When spending taxpayer money, I think governments so often fail to treat the exercise as an investment. If there are to be improvements to downtown, or any community, the end goal should be to make the area more of a destination for people’s money. Building a new library isn’t going to bring people downtown to go shopping. A new park might, if it’s done right. Since moving to Guelph I have been of the opinion that the city doesn’t make the most of it’s river. Instead of allowing a hideous lube joint to be opened on prime property where the parkland abruptly ends, how nice would it be to have a restaurant there with a big patio overlooking the park and river. Wouldn’t it be great if Wellington was lined with similar businesses, all overlooking parkland and river. Instead we have McDonalds, Quizno’s, Taco Bell and the like.

    The city could be improved so dramatically in so many other ways than those being proposed. Not to mention at far less cost.

    • Jay Morrison: Welcome to guelphspeaks! I like your point about government investment. You’re right that public money spent downtown should convert the area into a destination for people’s money, family safety and enjoyment. Instead it is a six-month playpen for University students who enrich bar and club owners. Already the Farbridge regime has spent millions to make downtown a magnet for all citizens. Now they are giving tax bonuses to developers to build condos downtown. There is a simple solution: Persuade the University to open its pubs for students on the week-end. This will allow police to enforce the law and gradually turn the downtown into a respectable oasis for all citizens to enjoy. The problem is that the council is populated by members who are employed or associated with the University.

  5. Ruby

    Hi Gerry,

    I also thought the StatsCan info. sounded a bit high. The 2006 census put Guelph at 127,000 but as you say that might include the fluctuations in population due to the university. I’ll check it out. If the population was about 105,000 in 2001 (city document) it’s possible that info. may be a better source for the “real” pop. of Guelph.

    Jay,
    The areas that you mention were once used for many factories/industries in the earlier days and there was contamination in the soil. Also the land around the lube place has until very recently been considered contaminated by previous industry.
    Plus the Speed River used to to flood regularly (every year someone would drown) until the dam/lock system was built, so having the green buffer along the riverbank might have deterred folks from building closer to the river. (Might want to check the old bylaws on that too)

    There used to actually be houses lining that section of Wellington (where the sidewalks are now) because workers would walk to the factories closeby. Most of that area started to be re- developed in the ’70’s with the ideas prevalent at the time. I believe the MacDonald’s was one of the first built about 1975. And there used to be a real grocery store (Dominion I believe) in that strip mall where the Mac’s milk is and what used to be Social Services.

    • Ruby: I can always depend on you to remind us of went before. Every community goes through a process of evolution. Change is inevitable to meet the challenges of a growing economy and changing culture. This is not your grandfather’s Guelph. But our city enjoys a rich heritage. Change must be affordable,consensual and progressive. With this Council that criteria seems forgotten.

  6. Gerry: every time I comment here you welcome me to the site! I’m starting to feel most welcomed!
    Ruby: contamination is fixable. Example – the old Greenwood Racetrack in Toronto is now one of Toronto’s most sought after neighbourhoods.

  7. Ruby

    I think for me, the question is “How do you turn a very small city from it’s manufacturing/factory/farming/cow&vet college history from not that long ago to something else?”
    That “old” economic base which made Guelph has not been replaced by new businesses that fit today’s world.
    And that’s why I talk history…Guelph’s history had a good solid economic base not so terribly long ago.
    “New Guelph” has been trying to do that for the last 40 years; they want to retain the small-town qualities of Guelph (which is why they came here most often to go to school and they stayed) with big-city opportunities, venues and variety.
    Guelph has morphed into an over-regulated, public sector, largish university (especially for a town this size) dominated by the “green, activist, whatever flavour of the month” crowd without the business base to support it.
    “Old Guelph” shakes it’s head and doesn’t recognize the place anymore.

    Guelph needs real jobs and businesses to make it work again. Too many people drive OUT of Guelph to go to work. Remove the green nuts and get some good business folks in there with some roots in the community and some financial sense who know how to get us going again.
    But “new Guelph” doesn’t seem to want that and that’s why Guelph falters.

    I’ll get off my soapbox now. Thanks for reading.

    • Ruby: I don’t know how to change the culture of this fine city. All I do know is what has occurred in the past almost six years isn’t working. Patience and sensibility will right the good ship in 2014.

  8. Paul

    Now let me see – a 93000 sq. ft. Library for $73000. By the time the overrun in construction costs is in, that Taj Mahal will be in the area of $1000 per square foot, This will make one of the most costly and irresponsible Council decisions in the history of this soon to be bankrupt City. I would not be surprised to see the Mayor try once again to sell Guelph Hydro to feed her spending habit. (Keep an eye on the HORIZON) On the open market that would give her at least $150 millions to reduce her borrowing, or to build the Library and the South End Rec Centre which is well overdue. Probably the latter.
    We the taxpayers are doomed!!

  9. Paul Phelan

    There is no end to the spending of Farbrige…The only legacy she will leave is that of a mayor who spent money like a 16 year old daughter with her father’s visa card!!!!!

  10. geo

    Foolish irresponsible spending, both on projects and litigation. That’s Farbridge’s legacy and I guarantee you she will not accept any responsibility for her actions. If she doesn’t blame the recession she’ll go back to her old favourite and point the finger at Kate Quarrie.

  11. Jeff Burke

    Every Guelph resident gets a free Kobo or Kindle ($200 max) for an outlay of $2M. No pensions, no ongoing costs, reduced head count

    • Jeff: That’s a novel approach. The question is: What is the role of the modern library? The rumble in the caves of city hall is that the proposed downtown library will really be a community centre complete with basketball courts, gym, saltwater pool, retail outlets plus condos. And, oh yes, a library. All this to serve folks occupying the new downtown residential development.Is there an echo in here?

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