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  • Writer's pictureESSEX FREE PRESS

Council discusses future of municipal buildings

Essex’s Director of Community Services, Doug Sweet, updates Council on findings from a municipal building assessment report.

by Adam Gault

Essex Council held a special meeting on Monday evening to discuss a 2016 assessment report relating to office accommodation at the Essex Town Hall and Gesto Office Building.

The 2016 report, which was undertaken by third party engineering firm, Stephenson Engineering, found the pair of now more than 50-year-old municipal buildings can no longer support contemporary municipal program and administrative space requirements.

The report stated that the current Essex Town Hall, constructed in 1967, is roughly half the size of a structure required to handle the staff and duties of a 2019 post-amalgamated Essex, aging mechanical systems, limited accessibility and parking, and that current municipal council chambers are offsite at the Essex County Civic Centre, a building owned by the County and not the Town.

As part of the firm’s recommendations, the report further stated the physical distance between the two municipal offices, creates, “physical barriers between and within departments, which would need to be rectified with an improved single office layout that could accommodate the entire municipal staff.

“[Stephenson Engineering] recommend that capital reinvestments to maintain existing condition, is not a prudent use of the Town’s funds, as both buildings significantly fall short of program and space requirements,” Director of Community Services, Doug Sweet, said, citing figures from the report showing that to maintain the existing buildings over the next ten or more  years, could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. “Those could be realistic costs of work that we’re actually looking at doing.”

As stated in their report, this would lead to an improvement in communications between the various municipal departments if the entirety of the municipal staff were moved into one building, either through a combination of renovating or expanding a current municipal structure, or building an entirely new town facility.

The report recommended several sites for a potential new municipal structure, including the current Essex Town Hall property, adjacent to the new Essex Centre Sports Complex, or the Essex Centre Sports Complex grounds north of the baseball diamond, fronting on Fairview Avenue.

Several councillors expressed concerns over the potential cost of the project, which according to the report, was estimated at over five million dollars in 2016.

Councillor Sherry Bondy and Deputy Mayor Richard Meloche inquired to the possibility of the project being undertaken in stages, lessening the immediate financial burden on the Town in the early stages, though that option might cost more in the long run.

Conversely, Councillor Joe Garon thought if the Town was to go ahead with a new structure, that it should all be constructed at once, adding that if they could come back with a good plan, it could have the support of the town.

Mayor Larry Snively was steadfast in that the new town hall would be essential for operations going forward, noting the subject of the new structure has been a topic of debate for years now.

“It’s got to be done, sooner or later,” Snively said. “I don’t look at [whether] this is going to effect me to get re-elected. I look at what’s best to do, and we need a new Town Hall. There’s no question about it.”

The meeting ending with a motion to direct administration to report back to Council with a business plan on the best option and location for a potential new Town Hall.

Council should receive the report during the strategic planning session later in May.

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