Downtown trash cans and more uncanned, but recanning remains possible

Andrew Bennett
By Andrew Bennett
May 10th, 2013

Council has decided to reinstate the downtown furniture budget that it had put on hold last year. The $108,000 line item includes benches, but also bike racks, recycling bins, bear-proof garbage containers, and the eclectic but contentious ore cart.

Council’s decision, however, stipulates that city staff will return to council for final authorization prior to making any furniture purchases. Coun. Kathy Wallace had previously raised the idea of hiring local artisans to build some of the items, for example the benches, instead of buying pre-fabricated items from a catalogue.

Please note: We recently reported that overall costs for the Columbia-Washington project were at about $6 million, about $1.4 million more than expected. Although former CAO Victor Kumar reported $4.6 million as the expected total cost, it seems he reported the construction costs as the total cost, without including design and supervision fees. It is very difficult to say what the costs actually were since the city has not provided the public with any information on how the money was spent. Unconfirmed information suggests that the construction costs were close to budget, perhaps with certain items deleted to balance overruns on other items. The design and engineering costs went higher than expected due to various issues that arose during construction, but the final fee included complete construction drawings that are shelf-ready for “phase 2,” Washington St. to Kirkup Ave.

At first council debated a motion to refer the decision on street furniture to a future meeting so artisanal alternatives could be considered.

Coun. Jill Spearn reacted, saying, “I appreciate the idea of local flavour downtown, but I wonder about the timeline on a project like that. I’m worried about garbage cans, bears, what the downtown core will look like, and how long local artisans will take to create what they [would] create.”

Mayor Greg Granstrom argued, “We’ve had design charrettes forever, this design was approved by the community, the furniture that’s bought is CSA approved so liability is covered. The entire community was involved [ad] infinitum.”

Coun. Kathy Moore commented, “Kind of like parallel parking.”

Coun. Jody Blomme asked about the new granite and wood benches that were recently erected on some corners, to which city staff replied that those benches had been part of the landscaping budget and so had not been removed from the plan, whereas the rest of the furniture was part of the “streetscaping” budget, which had been put on hold.

Coun. Cary Fisher was ambivalent: “I’d be in support of leaving it as is, but I don’t disagree with the idea of local artisans. We’re talking about a limited number of furnitures,” he said.

Speaking to a motion for council to have more discussion before approving the furniture, Wallace said, “I don’t think we need to get into the detail of the benches at this meeting, but I do think it’s an idea council should consider.”

Granstrom said, “We’ve been down this road so long, we’re spinning our wheels. I don’t want more discussion.”

Fisher, Thatcher, Spearn, and Granstrom defeated the motion, so council debated a new motion that the $108,000 stay in the FP for street furniture.

Blomme said, “I don’t feel comfortable with that, there’s a lot in other ideas that we haven’t discussed. There was a motion of council to take it out.”

“It was referred to budget,” Granstrom said, ” and that’s where we’re at right now.”

“We’re making this decision without a lot of clear information in front of us,” Blomme continued. “What about the idea of exploring doing this locally, keeping it local?”

“We’re making this decision based on design charrettes,” Granstrom said. “Councils, not necessarily this one, have had tremendous input into the design.”

Wallace said, “If we’re proceeding with this [motion], I’m totally against it. It’s $110,000 leaving the local economy. I also disagree that plan we last saw came out of charrettes. It actually came out of the landscape architect from ISL, that’s who chose the bike racks, the benches, and that really ugly ore cart that I think is still in the plan.”

Moore said, “I’d also vote against it. Some of the elements are fine, but I think we have an extremely unique town, and I don’t think it would be that hard to take a few moments, rather than rush through, to leave it in the budget and set aside a little working group. It wouldn’t be that big a deal and wouldn’t cost a lot of money to do that.”

Council agreed to an amendment to the motion that the streetscape items be brought back to council for final approval.

Spearn said, “We do have a streetscape committee, which I am on.” She added her concern that any work with local artisans “needs to be tasteful and not one iota tacky,” and said, “I’m not going to make this amendment if you’re thinking chunky wood things downtown.”

City Planner Mike Maturo clarified in response to a question by Fisher that the furniture choices were vetted through two streetscape committees and council “on several occasions.” He said, “We did run a public process for what was selected for downtown furniture.”

Blomme said, “When I saw what was being proposed, I thought, ‘Oh my God, our downtown is going to look like the patio of an A&W,’ with all this money going to prefab stuff that isn’t that interesting.”

She said the money amounted to “two full time, full year salaries that could stay in this community,” and suggested, “I’ve talked to several people who could make whatever you want. It needn’t be more expensive, it could be a better product and keep the money in the local area.”

Looking back on the process, Moore said she had to admit to a “failure of imagination” at the time she okayed the existing furniture plan. “It never occurred to me until Wallace’s suggestion [to use local artisans for some pieces.] I also don’t think there’s any risk of junk showing up: we just put out an RFP [request for proposals] and you do it like anything else, you either like them or you don’t like them.”

Moore concluded, “I like the idea of coming back and having a few pieces reflect the community.”

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