A vacant lot close to the leisure center on the corner of Butler and Fifteenth, owned by the provincial government and considered a brownfield site, has been identified as a preferred location for a new community hall. (Houston Today photo)

Community hall cost estimate increases

But preferred site offers several advantages

A new community hall could cost just over $7 million, considerably more than a previous estimate of $4.9 million, indicates a consultant’s report released by the District of Houston council.

And the consultants have identified a former provincial government industrial storage site at 2145 Butler Avenue, the corner of Butler and Fifteenth, near the leisure center as a preferred location for the structure.

That’s considered a brownfield site, opening the possibility of senior government grants to address contaminants in addition to other senior government grants to flesh out construction costs.

The Butler Avenue location “presents an opportunity for the District to contribute to the improvement of the community’s economic, social and environmental well-being by taking on the redevelopment of a vacant contaminated site,” reads a summary of the Bulkley Valley Engineering Services report.

What’s envisioned by the consultants is a structure of a total building area of 6,200 square feet with 3,500 square feet of that taken up by a large assembly area. The rest of the building would consist of two 400 square foot break out rooms, a 400 square foot kitchen as well as an office, washrooms and utility areas.

The immediate outside would be taken up by parking, a playground, a space for outside events, greenspace and a garden.

The District of Houston council is now looking for public comment and District staffers have posted information relating to the proposal.

One advantage is that the Butler Avenue site is close to the existing leisure center at the south end of the downtown core with a viable option of tying into the District’s existing heating system, something the consultants said would required more investigation.

That consideration could include burning wood waste, chips or pellets as an additional heat source to be incorporate within the larger system.

Also requiring more investigation would be the Butler Avenue property itself. At 2.2 acres its assessed value is $58,000 and while there has been some contamination remediation already done, more might be needed.

“Risks and potential work should be evaluated further as part of a future study specific to the District’s intended use of the site,” notes the report.

The consultants did indicate that the “cost of brownfield sites are typically negotiated to a nominal value if the proponent agrees to take on the remediation, which is a liability for most owners.”

As far as known financial resources, the District has just over a million dollars in a community hall replacement reserve account, bolstered significantly last year by $714,505 representing the 2019 profits from Dungate Community Forest operations.

That reserve, together with a sum from a provincial grant that could be spent on capital projects, has meant the District has allocated $1.444 million to the project. It then applied to a federal program called the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program for approximately $3.45 million to flesh out the cost when it was projected at $4.9 million. A decision is expected this summer.

Another source of money could be Coastal GasLink, subsidiary of TC Energy which is building the natural gas pipeline from northeastern B.C. to the LNG Canada natural gas liquefaction facility now under construction at Kitimat.

It earlier asked the District for a list of projects that would be considered as a legacy of its pipeline construction south of Houston.

District staffers did note last year that the estimated cost then of $4.9 million did not include acquiring land, an expense that would not be covered by a senior government grant program which might be a financial source.

Legacy projects have the intent to provide something that lasts into the future as a community benefit and are often a gesture on the part of companies in recognition of a significant impact on the community.

Built at some point in the 1950s, the community hall is approaching the end of its useful life despite the renovations that took place over the years. More work is now needed, including replacing the roof within the next several years.

In addition, the hall’s lower level and associated rooms are not available for rent since they lack access for people with mobility challenges.

According to a study prepared for the district in 2017, the facility has a maximum 14 years left under the best circumstances.

Two other locations were also considered but not recommended. One was 3150 Hwy. 16 on the south side of the highway that is privately-owned and 5.14 acres in size and assessed at $266,000.

“While this location presents an option for increased passing traffic, which may increase engagement, it is less well-suited to the uses outlined by the District and may be better suited to commercial development,” the consultants stated.

The other location at 3553 11 St. of 13.32 acres and bounded to the east by a housing development and to the west and south by a trailer park and north by Hwy. 16. It is assessed at $37,600 with a declared value of $90,378 last year.

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