The Town of Richmond Hill may not move its town hall to a planned downtown development after some three decades of consideration.
Councillors voted 5:3 on a special council meeting June 26 to remove the civic building and the underground parking from the Civic Precinct Project and investigate other options to accommodate the space needs of the municipal offices.
The downtown project at the southwest corner of Yonge St. and Major Mackenzie Dr., also known as People Place Richmond Hill, is designed to create a symbolic and functional community-focused area in the downtown.
“I was disappointed that the council took the stance they did,” Coun. David West said.
The relocation of the municipal offices from the southeast corner of Richmond Hill to the town centre has been in discussion since the 1970s.
After years of research and public consultations, Richmond Hill approved in 2016 the Civic Precinct Project as a town capital project which includes a civic building, underground parking, an expanded Central Library and other public gathering areas.
Council decided June 26 to move forward with the inclusion of the public amenities such as park space, an amphitheatre, reflecting pond/skating rink, public promenade and gardens.
A 2017 staff report says the total estimated cost of the entire project including the civic building and the underground parking was around $200 million. The estimated cost will be increased to $212.25 million with the adjustment of cost estimates related to the Central Library expansion, according to a staff report released earlier this year.
“Going into debt for an office building, I don’t think it’s a prudent way of dealing with the funds,” Richmond Hill Mayor Dave Barrow said at the special council meeting. “We can build an office building, we can add on to the operation centre or put on an annex building here. That’ll meet all our requirements of our people that are working here.”
Councillors have asked for a staff report on alternative options to accommodate the town hall space needs and associated costs, as well as additional parking options for the Civic Precinct.
“Technically there is no final decision that has been made because we have to look at those alternatives,” said Carol Moore, manager of communication services at the Town of Richmond Hill.
Coun. West said the civic building may be brought back on the table once council receives the staff report on the estimated costs of alternative options.
“To me, building a separate building or extending the building we have right now seems to be a bit of a piecemeal approach, but again we have to wait and see what the numbers say,” Coun. West said.
Council will also wait on the staff report before making a decision on the two expansion options of the Central Library: 17,800-square-foot expansion and 31,800-square-foot expansion. A report in May says the estimated development charges revenues that primarily fund expansions to library facilities are not sufficient to cover the estimated cost of the two proposed options.
Staff will report back to council in 2019 with updated financials and alternate options for additional office space, as well as options for parking at the Civic Precinct.