The City of Nanaimo offered tours of its outdated public works yard Saturday just days after an alternative approval process began related to the funding of a new Nanaimo Operation Centre on the site.
The tours are part of an expanded communications effort by the city to convince taxpayers the city should borrow $48.5 million for the first phase of a new Nanaimo Operations Centre.
The total cost, of the four-phase project, is estimated at $160 million.
Bill Sims, City of Nanaimo’s general manager of engineering and public works, says senior management has struggled with the cost estimates in light of the project’s history.
“Fifteen years ago this project was on the books at about eight or $10 million, and council, on behalf of the citizens, decided we needed to spend that money elsewhere,” said Sims.
The tour saw about 40 people go through the site’s buildings Saturday, some dating back to the 1960s, when the city was much smaller.
“Our population was between 30,000 and 40,000. Now we’re over 100,000 and so we’re trying to do more and more all the time and we’re struggling now to keep up,” said Sims.
The city said there are many problems as a result, including some vehicles no longer fitting in bays to be worked on, inefficient heating and cooling for buildings, and only one out-building for women to change in that also serves as the first aid room, that’s non-accessible. There are also seismic concerns.
Despite the cost, the city says the project is just practical.
“No jewelry. It’s pretty basic. Our mantra is fit for purpose. We need to respond to the needs of the community. We don’t need to overdo it,” said Sims.
On Thursday, the city started a second Alternative Approval Process, or AAP, for the project after the city failed to properly follow required advertising timelines for the first one this past fall.
An AAP is like negative billing. It requires 10 per cent of city taxpayers to submit forms to city hall stating their opposition within 30 days or the borrowing will go ahead. The deadline is Nov. 3.
A group that was outside the City of Nanaimo’s public works yard as people left the tours Saturday is opposed to the process.
“I think the AAP is an undemocratic process and it’s procedurally unfair, and again I think the citizens of Nanaimo are smart enough on whether to go forward with borrowing the $163-million for this four phase project or not,” said Joe Figel of the Nanaimo City Council Accountability Hub.
The city says a referendum would only increase the cost of the project, but if the AAP fails it may be the next option for the city.