A budget increase of $1.41 million to replace the Coopers Green Hall in Halfmoon Bay was endorsed at the Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) board at its May 26 Board meeting. The new budget for the yet-to-be-started project is now capped at $4.5 million, up from $3.1 million previously authorized.
The new budget means that taxpayers from the Coast’s rural areas will be repaying a loan for the rebuild that may go as high as $1.5 million. Based on the current updated project cost estimates, borrowing of $949,855 will be required.
Full board vote
A recommendation from the May 19 electoral area services committee meeting on the new spending plan was put to full board consideration by Area E Director Donna McMahon.
In a weighted board vote, Gibsons Director Bill Beamish voted in opposition along with McMahon and Area D Director Andreas Tize, who had both voted against the change at the committee level. Gibsons vote counted as three and each rural director’s vote counted as two.
They were outvoted, with rural directors Leonard Lee, Lori Pratt and Mark Hiltz, and the six votes allocated to Directors Darnelda Siegers and Alton Toth of Sechelt being cast in favour of proceeding with the project. No representative of the Sechelt Indian Government District was at the meeting to cast a vote.
McMahon and Beamish said they wanted the borrowing issue to go to a referendum. Speaking about the impacts of the decision on rural taxpayers, McMahon said, “I’m not sure other (non-Halfmoon Bay) rural voters are aware of the impacts.”
“$4 million-plus for a community hall is too much. That will not be the final number, as costs are continuing to escalate,” Beamish said. He said he does support community halls but that “going bigger is not necessarily better." He also cautioned his colleagues that approving this change could set a precedent for similar projects in future years.
Before calling the vote, board chair Siegers said that in anticipation of the issue going to a full board vote, she discussed her concerns related to the project with staff and other directors. “At this point, we as municipal directors are voting on if the SCRD can take on this debt," she said, adding that she was “comfortable” with supporting the increased budget.
As discussion on the matter came to a close, the general manager of community services, Shelley Gagnon, advised that consideration of awarding of tenders for the project would come before the board, likely in late Fall 2022.
Costs increased as project was debated
Between 2018 and 2022 the estimated construction cost for the project increased from $716 to $981 per square foot. A portion of the change related to a 2021 board direction for staff to amend the design of the hall to be ‘net zero ready.'
Community consultations on the hall replacement began in 2016 and went through a number of permutations on location, size and design. In July, 2020, the project was awarded an Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program (ICIP) grant of just over $2 million. That grant requires that the project be complete by March 31, 2025.
In a letter to Coast Reporter dated May 31, Linda McMahon of the Halfmoon Bay Community Association stated that group has raised close to $400,000 for the project through community fundraising. "Building on the momentum of this project go-ahead, we can now work towards a new target for contribution towards construction costs. As well, we will also focus on grants and fundraising for furniture, fixtures and equipment," McMahon wrote