Sudbury City Council takes major steps towards $98.5M Junction East Cultural Centre
Centre would house main branch of public library, Art Gallery of Sudbury, Sudbury Multicultural Association
The City of Greater Sudbury took a major step forward on a cultural project planned for the downtown.
"Just to clarify, we are moving forward with our Junction East project."
That declaration came from Mayor Brian Bigger after councillors voted 11-2 in favour of several recommendations from staff, including moving forward on the detailed design, as well as financing and operational plans.
The mayor's statement brought applause from the spectators in the gallery at council chambers.
The Junction East Cultural Centre will be home to the main branch of the public library, the Art Gallery of Sudbury, and the Sudbury Multicultural and Folk Arts Association. The Sudbury Theatre Centre will be next door, and has been included in some partnership discussions.
Most councillors supported the plans, but they did mention shock with the final price tag — which is more than double the original budget of $46 million estimated in 2017, when the project was first discussed.
This past May an updated presentation pegged the cost at $93 million. On Tuesday night, council voted to move forward on a project now priced at $98.5 million.
"There will always be resistance to new public projects," said Ward 9 Coun. Deb McIntosh.
"There's a number of them: Science North, the Bell Park walkway and even the community arena in 1953. People said we can't afford it. Can you even imagine our community without these assets we have today?" she added.
McIntosh did ask project manager, Eleethea Savage to explain how the city got to the latest figure.
The city approved a multi-year accessibility plan, a community energy emissions strategy and a draft public art policy. City council has also asked staff to find an alternate site (on Shaughnessy Street), which required property acquisition. There are also staff dedicated to the project.
All contributed to the higher cost.
"It will never be cheaper if we wait," McIntosh said.
"There's an opportunity for us here to get something across the finish line that's been kicking around in one form or another for at least 20-plus years," said Ward 10 Coun. Fern Cormier.
Previous councils have tried to get similar versions of this project passed for at least a decade.
"The technical part is you said you were going to do it. You said you were going to do it 13 years ago, you said you were going to do it 10 years ago. We said yes, five years ago. This is the pivot point, this is the go-no-go decision," he added.
Cormier also reminded his colleagues of tourists traveling to Europe who post pictures from art museums and places of knowledge.
"For centuries art galleries, libraries, repositories of knowledge and culture have been revered," he said.
"Yes, I'm shocked at the price. That's a fact," said Ward 3 Coun. Gerry Montpellier, however he added that he is impressed with the project.
"There are no legal challenges, there is no objection, no protests…This to me dictates something that is wanted," he said.
"Again I will be supportive, although it just bites me that it's that much money, that I'll admit," Montpellier said.
'On the backs of taxpayers'
The two city councillor who opposed the various motions Tuesday night were Bill Leduc and Michael Vagnini.
"I keep going back to the whole economic condition of where we're going and the path we might be taking," Vagnini told his council counterparts.
"I'm not talking about whether this is a good project or a bad project but we are putting it on the backs of the taxpayers," he added.
Vagnini also reminded council that he didn't support the project back in 2017 either.
"I went back to saying 'let's get the priorities done and let's leave the niceties for another time, and I'm still of that belief…I want to err on the side of caution."
Within the financial plan for Junction East, the construction of the building has an estimated cost of $80.7 million, including a $14-million contingency budget.
One of the motions was to shelve the Junction West/Synergy project for now, which had included a conference centre.
City staff and the partners with Junction East Cultural Centre plan to seek out government funding and look for other revenue streams.
Staff say four contractors have been pre-approved to bid on the construction work. The project will go to tender in early 2023.
The plan is for completion by early 2025.