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City of Revelstoke exploring relocating council chambers back to city hall

City staff and media look at floor plans of the new Development Services department offices under construction at Revelstoke City Hall on Dec. 12. The tape on the floor indicates where the new front counter will be located.   - Aaron Orlando/Revelstoke Times Review file photo
City staff and media look at floor plans of the new Development Services department offices under construction at Revelstoke City Hall on Dec. 12. The tape on the floor indicates where the new front counter will be located.
— image credit: Aaron Orlando/Revelstoke Times Review file photo

The Dec. 12 tour of ongoing renovations at Revelstoke City Hall was designed to clarify for the public what’s going on with the stalled renovation project.

Due to a last-minute commitment, City of Revelstoke CAO Tim Palmer was unable to attend, leaving Director of Development Services Mike Thomas with the impromptu tour guide duties.

Two members of the media showed up – myself and David Rooney from the Revelstoke Current – but other than that, it was two city councillors and senior staff pulled out of a concurrent security committee meeting.

Thomas explained that city hall was poorly laid out, leading to the idea to renovate. City council approved the demolition project on the first floor this summer, which is where the project is stalled. The idea was to streamline services and improve customer service.

Upstairs, planning, engineering and bylaw staff are shoehorned into the former engineering department.

Thomas explained that city hall was compartmentalized before, and they hope relocating all those services down to the first floor will improve work flow. The idea is to make the customer experience more seamless. Someone getting a building permit wouldn’t be sent “upstairs,” literally, to another department.

Over in the second-floor lunch room, Thomas pointed out the building wasn’t well laid out.

Down in the gutted former planning department, city staff had stuck masking tape on the floor in the shape of the new reception desk. Likewise, a planned new curved-glass brick entrance was marked with tape. Floor plans for the room were placed on easels.

Thomas explained how the new layout would be conducive to better customer service. He also said the building just needed an upgrade. “We’re excited to be moving into a new space,” Thomas said. “We want a city hall that looks good.”

As for the failing stucco exterior, Thomas said the city is proposing using an EIFS system, which is an acronym for exterior insulation finishing system. The idea is cause for concern.

That’s because back in 2010, the City of Revelstoke was planning to install an EIFS system when they were waylaid by the Canadian Art Deco Society, who objected to a plan they felt would mar the significant heritage values of C.B.K. Van Norman’s “modernist gem.”

Eventually, this led to a $23,000 heritage study of the building by Vancouver-based Donald Luxton & Associates. The study identified putting the exterior cladding as the least desirable option because it isn’t necessary and it would destroy the building’s exterior heritage values.

Donald Luxton is a leading figure in the B.C. heritage community, having been involved in a spectrum of heritage projects over a 30-year career. He was awarded the 2009 British Columbia Heritage Award and is the founding president of the Canadian Art Deco Society.

That the EIFS option is still on the table displays a distinct lack of institutional memory at city hall, which has seen senior staff changes since the exterior renovation started.

When that was pointed out, Thomas said that EIFS was only one option. “How we do it is sort of the question,” Thomas said, adding the exterior cladding would make the building “an inch or two fatter.”

Budget concerns

The project was budgeted for $800,000 in the current budget, and again at $800,000 in the 2014 budget.

The $800,000 renovation project began in the summer of 2013, but stalled recently due to budget issues.

The Times Review requested budget information on the project when details of the renovations were announced in July of 2013. City officials said they’d have an estimate by the end of summer, but none has been forthcoming yet.

In late November, the Times Review filed a series of questions that asked for budget details on the ongoing renovations when it was learned the project had stalled because of budget issues.

In a Nov. 29 email, new City of Revelstoke communications director Lyle Huntley said they would be available in a report to council at their Dec. 10 meeting.

However, no budget details were contained in the two-page report. It was a one-page invitation to the Dec. 12 open house, and graph showing staffing level changes at city hall since 2011.

City staff last week provided limited information on the budget. They sent a one-page PDF of a “construction budget estimate” from Meiklejohn Architects Inc. The document appeared removed from a larger document and lacked context, but totalled $256,672 with tax.

The city hall building envelope has been budgeted for $250,000 and the elevator (to go in the old fire hall hose tower) is a $300,000 line-item.

The cost of planned exterior renovations have not yet been itemized. They include benches, signs and sidewalk realignment on Second Street.

Thomas said expenditures so far on the project are in the tens of thousands. He also said that testing turned up no asbestos.

Two days before the city hall tour, city CAO Tim Palmer revealed he’s considering a new wave of renovations on the second storey of Revelstoke City Hall, including considering relocating Revelstoke Council Chambers back into the building.

Revelstoke City Council meetings were once held in council chambers that were located in the building.

Council chambers are currently located in a rented space across Second Street from city hall, in the building next to Benoit’s Wine Bar.

Palmer told council the plans are preliminary: “We haven’t done any detailed design on that,” he said, adding the idea is making “more and more sense.”

He hoped relocating into city hall would create “operational cost savings.”

The move would require renovations; the former council chambers have been taken over by office space since they were removed. At council meetings, presenters often use a computerized presentation system, and the current location is wired with telecommunications equipment.

Back on the city hall tour, I asked city councillor Phil Welock for more budget and plan information. “Whatever you’ve seen is all we’ve seen,” he said.

Also along for the tour was city councillor Chris Johnston, who said councillor’s had okayed the commencement of the reno earlier this year. “It was done with council’s approval,” he said.

Questions remain

At a November council meeting, Coun. Tony Scarcella asked for a budget on the project. Documents released last week indicate a larger package exists, but hasn’t been before council yet.

The fact that city administrators are hosting an open house to clarify the project is evidence there is concern about public perception.  It’s unclear if the renovation project needs further council approval, perhaps during the 2014 budget cycle.

The absence of a clear package describing the goals and budget for the renovation seems to be harming public confidence in the project. Improved customer service, everyone agrees, is a great target, but is renovating the building the best way to achieve that goal?

 

 

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