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City watchdog questions cost, status of annex

A Nanaimo resident, not convinced that the city needs to spend nearly $16 million to build a new annex for city staff, has launched a petition to gauge public disapproval on the project.

Jim Taylor said he believes the annex is not as badly in need of seismic upgrades as city council and staff have indicated, and that spending taxpayer money to build a new one is financially irresponsible.

"I've talked to a lot of contractors around town and they each told me the annex is a much better structure than many other downtown buildings," said Taylor. "Plus it sits on bedrock, which is the safest place for a building during an earthquake. You could drop a bomb on that building and it's not going anywhere."

Taylor said he's as unimpressed with the process council and staff used as he is with the price tag, which will result in a 1.1-per cent tax rate increase for the next four years.

Staff issued an Expression of Interest to contractors instead of a tendering process.

An EOI process, of which the city received 15 submissions, results in a varied response that includes different locations, build proposals and financial information. Council voted to accept a proposal submitted by ICI/Windley Contracting to build a new LEED gold standard 42,900 square foot annex at 411 Dunsmuir St. for $11.87 million. The additional $3.8 million is needed for contingencies, moving costs, new furniture and equipment.

"The annex is in very poor condition. In a lot of the original sections it is brick-on-brick with no rebar," said Nanaimo mayor John Ruttan. "Even a mild earthquake would have catastrophic results. We have the lives of our employees to consider and we obviously take that very seriously, but there is also the safety of the public in that area we have to consider as well."

Ruttan said the old annex on Franklyn Street, which the city purchased in 1999 for $500,000, was built in 1937 and has extensive brickwork that is not supported by rebar.

"If we had the luxury of time we may have done it a different way but we didn't think we did so we acted," said Ruttan.

So far, Taylor has 72 signatures on the petition, but he said it's intended to raise awareness on how the city uses taxpayers' money. The petition can be viewed at www.NanaimoPetition.com.

"It's to generate public discussion," he said. "People pay $2,000 or $3,000 in property taxes and nobody questions how their money is spent. Do we really need to spend this $15 million or can we have safe offices for city staff by spending $6 million for repairs? In my opinion, taxpayers can't sustain the amount city hall is spending."

Deconstructing the old annex is also expected to be expensive, though it's not known how much it will cost yet. Ruttan said selling it to a developer may also be an option.

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