A rendering of a public works administration building that may be part of the Nanaimo Operations Centre project. (Kasian Architecture, Interior Design and Planning Ltd./City of Nanaimo image)

City of Nanaimo public works yard rebuild would cost $125 million

City councillors will be presented with funding strategies later this year

If the City of Nanaimo wants to improve and modernize its public works yard, it’s looking at a potential cost of $125 million.

City staff, at a meeting Wednesday, Sept. 22, presented a business case to councillors for the Nanaimo Operations Centre, a potential project that would consolidate the city’s public works, parks, engineering and purchasing departments at an upgraded yard on Labieux Road.

One year ago, councillors approved $200,000 to develop architectural concepts and a costing plan for the upgrades. That 200-page report, prepared by Kasian Architecture, Interior Design and Planning Ltd. and cost consulting firm BTY, has now been completed and was presented at a city finance and audit committee meeting Sept. 22.

The $125-million cost estimate “is dependent on many factors,” a city staff report noted, and might range anywhere from $100-162 million. The proposed plan includes the construction of three new buildings and renovation of existing structures, done during four phases of development over five to six years between 2023-2029.

“The substantial cost of this project will be challenging for the city to fund…” noted the staff report. “Although there is a demonstrated and growing need for the project, the cost is considerable. Such a large commitment requires careful consideration and community buy-in.”

One year ago, when councillors approved the $200,000 for project planning, one council member asked if public works yard improvements might cost as much as $40 million and engineering staff said it would be at the upper end of that and maybe beyond.

This week’s staff report noted that the public works yard is the centre of operations for numerous city services including sanitation, road maintenance, water supply and distribution, sanitary and storm sewer, fleet maintenance, capital projects and purchasing and stores.

“The existing facility has exceeded its staff capacity and considerable efforts have been made to accommodate the increasing need by converting unsuitable space or adding additional trailer units,” the report noted. “The overall result is a facility that struggles to meet the operational needs, goals or expectations of the city … Furthermore, it falls short of meeting environmental regulations, building code, accessibility and gender equality considerations.”

Poul Rosen, the city’s director of engineering, said there are some “pretty significant concerns” about the existing buildings, including the fleet maintenance area which he said is seismically vulnerable.

Coun. Don Bonner asked whether other alignments for buildings had been considered for the property.

“It’s such a large amount of money that I would really like to see options so that we can pick and choose things,” he said. “I understand staff [are the] experts at this, but from a political point of view, this is a lot of money.”

Rosen replied that the plan was developed with thousands of considerations, saying for example, that bulk materials need to be situated close to staff looking after stores, and turning radius for large vehicles has to be factored in.

“We could bring forward more information on how we arrived at that, but my caution is it’s so complex and complicated, I’m not sure it would be particularly fruitful,” he said.

Staff reported that other options, such as purchasing or leasing an alternative facility or relocating the site, had been considered and and said “there are very few options or improvements over the existing location.” As for the possibility of renovating or replacing specific buildings at the yard, it would involve “balancing the condition assessment results with the needs assessment,” the report noted.

Councillors were not asked to make any decision at Wednesday’s finance meeting, as Rosen said staff would come back in a couple of months with more information about funding strategies and context around how various large-scale projects could be prioritized.

“We realize this is a lot of information to absorb for everybody and we realize this isn’t the only facility with significant capital needs, as well,” he said.

Chief administrative officer Jake Rudolph said once the city has certainty around moving forward on the project, there will be fiscal analysis and then an approval process which director of legislative services Sheila Gurrie said would likely be an alternative approval process.

Coun. Ian Thorpe said he was happy to see the project planning reach this stage and said staff in the public works department keep the city running.

“They are the nuts and bolts of our city and this is a project that we cannot allow, in my opinion, to shuffle down the road any further,” Thorpe said.

For more, visit www.nanaimo.ca/goto/NanaimoOperationsCentre/.

READ ALSO: City of Nanaimo begins project planning for multimillion-dollar public works yard upgrades

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