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West Kelowna to press ahead with new municipal hall

West Kelowna council is pressing ahead with its plan for a new municipal hall in Westbank.

On Tuesday, council voted unanimously to prepare a “prequalification” document, that would invite interested developers to come forward and, possibly, offer up land for a new 23,000-25,000-square-foot, two-storey building that the district’s consultant estimates would cost $6.5 million to build.

Throw in another $2 million to buy the land and West Kelowna taxpayers could be looking at a 2.4 per cent increase ($40) on their annual property taxes to pay the building, say district finance department staff. The estimated $8.5 million total for the project would include $1 million which the district has already set aside for the project.

“I’m pleased with what I’m hearing,” said Mayor Doug Findlater following a presentation by project consultant Jonathan Huggert. “I feel it’s viable and affordable.”

Findlater said the district could have decided to locate the new municipal hall in another area of West Kelowna but felt it was incumbent on it to do something to help make the downtown Westbank area more viable

“This is it,” he said.

The Westbank Town Centre, as the district calls the area, has seen a drastic loss of business in recent years as large commercial and retail development has grown on the nearby Westbank First Nation reserve land.

It also has had to deal with the issue of the Highway 97 couplet running through the area. The municipality recently gave up its effort to get rid of the couplet.

In making its decision to proceed with the plan for a new municipal hall, council went with Huggert’s recommendation that the building be part of a comprehensive development that could see other “complementary” development on the same site.

While the hall and the land it would sit on would be owned by the municipality, Huggert said it could be part of a larger development rather than a structure standing on its own.

Huggert’s report suggests the district needs a building with at least 23,000-square feet of space on a two-acre property. The building, however, could be larger if Interior Health comes on board and takes some of the space. IHA has indicated it wants to expand in the Westbank area.

The district’s chief administrative officer Jason Johnson said he has a meeting planned with IHA officials Oct. 15 to discuss the possibility of the health authority becoming part of the project.

In a preliminary time-line presented by Huggert, the investigation into a potential partnership with IHA and preparing and issuing the prequalification document could take place as early as next month, with a December deadline for potential builders to respond.

The responses would then be evaluated in January, with a report back to council in February.

A formal request for proposals could be issued in March 2014 to a shortlist of three proponents, with a winner recommended to council in May.

Coun. Bryden Winsby questioned the quick timeframe but Huggert said it is doable as it is based on a similar timeframe for a similar building recently embarked on by the Columbia-Shuswap Regional District and one used by Merritt when it built its city hall several years ago.

If the district is successful in building a new municipal hall, it would mean the current municipal offices at the Mt. Boucherie Recreation Complex would return to their original, intended use—recreation. The district is putting aside $85,000 per year to help cover the cost of that work.

Where in Westbank the new hall would be located, is still in question.

But Huggert said his phone has been “ringing off the hook” since he was hired, with calls from landowners offering potential property for a municipal building.

 

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