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Watts challenger targets new city hall
A South Surrey resident running for mayor in the Nov. 19 civic election is calling for a halt to any construction on the new city hall.
But incumbent Dianne Watts says Ross Buchanan’s appeal – along with claims the project will cost at least $97 million and up to $200 million – is “totally unrealistic.”
“That’s not going to happen,” Watts said. “This is a whole complex plan of moving the city forward. I understand that he needs an election issue – I get that – but this has been in the works for a very long time.
“There’s a big hole in the ground and contracts have been let, and so we’re not going to put all those people out of work, start cancelling contracts and leave a big hole in the city centre.”
Schematics for the 180,000-square-foot facility were unveiled in June 2010. A site on the south side of 104 Avenue, east of University Boulevard, has been excavated, and construction is expected complete by the fall of 2013.
Buchanan, describing the project as a “boondoggle,” cited cost as a key reason why the work should not proceed. At least two Surrey Civic Coalition council candidates – Rina Gill and Stephanie Ryan – have announced they share the sentiment.
In addition to the cost factor, Buchanan – one of seven mayoral candidates – said the timing is bad for this scope of a project.
“This is a huge debt that we’re taking on,” Buchanan said. “My question is… is this the right project and if it is, is now the right time?”
Watts said Friday that the building will cost $50 million, with a portion to be recovered through leasing out the existing city hall on 56 Avenue. She said a September 2010 bylaw authorizing the city to borrow up to $97 million is money that was locked in through the Municipal Finance Authority “to make available if we need it – we may not – at a very low interest rate.”
Regarding lease revenue, Watts confirmed the city is “going through the process” with the provincial government to see the existing facility leased for expansion of the justice precinct. The area is currently home to the Surrey RCMP detachment, remand centre and Surrey Provincial Court.
Taxes have not been increased to pay for the project, she added. And, a satellite office will be established in a South Surrey facility.
In response to Buchanan’s claims infrastructure of the existing city hall is more than adequate, Watts said the new facility is part of a larger effort to increase sustainability. In addition to a plaza and a council chamber that converts to theatre space, it will have a community daycare and space for seniors. It will also be close to SkyTrain, she said.
“It’s not just around space. It’s around building a city,” she said.
Buchanan maintained it’s a project that has divided the city, and that warrants review.
“People would like to know the truth behind what the numbers are here,” he said. “There’s a whole bunch of people asking questions.”