West Kelowna has not given up on building a new city hall in Westbank.
But, after city voters rejected a plan to partner with a private developer and build a $14 million city hall as part of a larger civic centre project, it has scaled back its expectations.
Following the slim referendum rejection of the city’s civic centre proposal last month, council told its staff Tuesday to investigate two other options—a phased-in plan to build a new city office building in the Westbank town centre using $7.1 million from city reserves and looking at a leasing arrangement with Interior Health to occupy part of a new phased-in building in Westbank.
“The message to me (in the referendum) was the citizens of West Kelowna don’t think we need to spend $14 million on a city hall. We don’t need a civic plaza or expensive underground parking,” said Coun. Duane Ophus.
“We need to pull in our horns and lower our expectations.”
The referendum in September asking residents to approve borrowing $7.7 million to combine with the $7.1 million from reserves to pay for the new city hall, was voted down by just 27 votes.
Following the referendum rejection, council asked staff to come back with a list of alternate options that could be investigated.
Six options were presented to council:
• Investigate temporary improvements to the existing city offices at the Mt. Boucherie Recreation Complex,
• Investigate phased-in construction of a new municipal office in Westbank,
• Investigate phased-in municipal office construction somewhere in West Kelowna as a whole,
• Investigate a leasing arrangement with Interior Health in a phased-in municipal office construction,
• Investigate developing a city hall on land the city owns on Bartley Road, site of a planned future city works yard and a possible new fire hall.
• Investigate other options including leasing more space for city workers as the existing municipal office is now at capacity, according to chief administrative officer Jim Zaffino.
While councillors had different opinions about the options presented, in the end, all but Coun. Rosalind Neis voted to investigate the phased-in approach for a cheaper building in Westbank and having Interior Health lease part of any new building.
Neis was opposed because she said the city should not be locked into having the building in the Westbank.
Because the city may have to buy land for the new building, she predicted land for sale in Westbank will “double in price overnight” once word gets out.
She said the Bartley Road site should have been part of the consideration mix.
While council has not made any final decision, and will consult with the public once it decides what exactly it wants to do, several councilors said doing nothing was not an option.
With the existing city offices “bulging at the seams,” as Coun. Bryden Winsby described it, more space needs to be found for city workers sooner rather than later.
He dismissed the suggestion of building an extension on to the existing offices at Mt. Boucherie as a “dumb” idea.
However, both the selected options for further investigation will likely result in the city having to install more portables at Mt. Boucherie to house city staff.
Zaffino said two-storey portables are being considered and they could cost—when utility and technology hook-ups are factored in—as much as $200,000 each.
The two options to be looked at further will see city staff look at the feasibility of securing appropriate land and building a smaller new city hall in phases in Westbank and the feasibility of including IH and having it lease part of the building for an expanded Westside health unit. IH would be responsible for funding the improvements it would need to the building and that would help offset the city’s costs.
In the rejected civic centre plan, IH was to have moved into one of the privately built, owned and operated buildings on the site on Elliott Road.
“We can’t foot drag on this,” said Mayor Doug Findlater. “There’s no harm in spending time and effort to investigate these options.”
And he defended the choice of the Westbank town centre, pointing to Kelowna and the work that city has done over the last 20 years to develop its downtown, with buildings such as Prospera Place, the main downtown library, the Rotary Centre For the Arts, the new Interior Health Community Health and Services building and the new Innovation Centre.
Findlater and Ophus both said it’s critical that IH expand its health unit in West Kelowna.