REPORT #1,128: Preserving our heritage costs money – and it doesn’t stop with this year’s new coat of paint. That on-going cost needs to be built into the renovation budget, as well as into our political mindset.
Monday, Oct. 19, 2015 – London Ontario
Old buildings, as anyone who has ever renovated one will know, are not called money pits for no good reason. So we shouldn’t be surprised the cost of bringing the old Normal School in Wortley Village into the 21st century has suddenly jumped upwards.
We shouldn’t be dismayed either. Saving our history is expensive. If we think that’s important – and I hope we do – then we need to anticipate these sudden surprises.
Okay, a few expletives are permitted when you first break through the plaster and find the brick wall behind is rotting (or fill in your own unexpected discovery). Think of it this way, though – you’ll have a great story to tell when the job is finished.
For London the costs have increased about $2 million, or about 25 per cent, as a report to Tuesday’s meeting of city council’s corporate services committee indicates. That’s a serious chunk of change, granted, but not unusual. It means the final cost to London taxpayers of acquiring the building and surrounding land, and renovating it to current standards, will now top $11.3 million.
That’s in addition to the considerable sums the provincial government – also supported by London taxpayers – paid previously to restore the exterior.
As city council considers this additional spending, it should be acknowledged protecting heritage is not an automatic solution to every old building.
In this case, for example, the end user will be the YMCA of Western Ontario which, as a tenant, will operate a daycare at an annual rent of $450,000. At that rate, obviously, the city will be a long time getting its money back from this project, if ever.
Financial returns like this suggest protecting heritage is something most businesses will find difficult. In future it may be something only governments can afford to do. Do taxpayers want to buy every old building to save it?
Location of the old Normal School in Wortley Village, and in particular the sizeable green that surrounds it, made this an appealing neighbourhood project and it had considerable community support.
But now that we own it, what is the long-term plan to keep it up-to-date? The city owns a number of heritage buildings now in deplorable condition. Fixing old buildings is one thing, but they must remain fixed to current standards to both remain useful and to remain protected.
Preserving our heritage costs money. It doesn’t stop with this year’s new coat of paint. That cost needs to be built into the renovation budget, as well as into our political mindset.
An unnecessary ranking
A better suggestion would have been to abolish the deputy deputy position altogether.
Since the current council was elected we’ve had two deputies – one, appointed by the mayor for the four-year term, is the senior deputy; the other, elected by council for a year at a time. That second deputy is also chairperson of the corporate services committee; the first deputy is given no special duties.
So when Mayor Matt Brown is absent, the first deputy, Paul Hubert, serves in his place. Should it happen both are away, then the second deputy, Maureen Cassidy, takes over.
In days of yore, when London had a Board of Control, the controller winning the most votes city-wide earned the position as deputy mayor. There was only one, and she or he also served as budget chairperson.
When Board of Control was canned in 2010, the deputy’s job became a rotating position each member of council could fill. That idea lost favour when the likes of Stephen Orser or Dale Henderson suddenly became mayor for a day or week.
The mayor is the only council position elected city-wide. Allowing him or her to pick a colleague of similar viewpoint as an assistant or replacement seems fair and reasonable. Why do we need a second one?