To some, Sackville’s $13 million town hall is a symbol of the town’s vibrant culture and its relative prosperity; to others it stands for waste and extravagance, a costly Taj Mahal.
But during last week’s council meeting, Councillor Joyce O’Neil made it clear that for her, the seven-year-old building reflects Sackville’s longstanding concern with climate change.
“There’s a lot of people that don’t know the effort that was put into [it] when this building was being built, how we were looking at climate change,” O’Neil said.
“I know there’s others out there that have no idea what went into this building, the planning that [we] did, and it all dealt with climate change,” O’Neil added.
She asked Treasurer Michael Beal to explain the building’s history as a way of reminding the public that the town’s elected politicians have already taken major steps to fight climate change.
Beal, who oversaw the building’s planning and construction as the town’s acting Chief Administrative Officer, said discussions about it began around 2009 as it became apparent that the town needed to replace three undersized buildings: the town hall, the fire department and the police station.
“We undertook to move three facilities into one,” Beal said. “We looked at how can we construct this and not increase — even though we’re increasing our footprint — not increase our overall costs and our overall energy consumption.”
Beal went on to explain that by adopting “green” building standards under a rating and certification system known as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), the town became the first municipality in Canada to qualify for a $1 million grant from the federal government’s Green Municipal Fund and a $9.2 million, 20-year federal loan with a low, 2% interest rate.
He said Sackville’s town hall eventually received a LEED silver rating, reducing energy consumption for a building of its size by more than 60% through the use of green technologies such as geo-thermal heating and cooling, low-energy lights and timers.
“We have a lot more space,” Beal concluded, “and are not using very much [more] energy than we would have used in the three undersized, smaller facilities.”
However, figures the treasurer made public in November 2016 appear to show that the new town hall did increase energy use and costs substantially.
The figures showed that the average annual energy cost of oil, natural gas and electricity from October 1, 2013 to September 30, 2016 in the new town hall was $90,358.61 while the average cost of energy in the three old buildings amounted to $32,514.86 per year between January 1, 2008 and December 31, 2011.
Beal released the figures in response to questions from Sackville resident Keith Carter, who complained at the time that the new building was too costly with too much wasted space.
“We didn’t need a Taj Mahal,” Carter said. “One of their big things when they were talking about it before was to lower their carbon footprint, or whatever you call it, and that it was going to be cheaper. That was the original thing. Well now, we find out that it’s not. It’s more expensive to have it.”
Beal responded that the new town hall was needed to alleviate overcrowding of both staff and equipment at the old locations.
“The key is though, we have a larger facility than we had at the three other facilities and with that comes larger utilities costs,” he said.
“We do have a much larger facility, one that the fire trucks fit in, one that has RCMP cells that are up to standards and [the] council chamber is larger than the other facility,” he said.
Beal added that without the many energy-saving features that were incorporated into the new building’s design, utility costs would have been 40% higher in 2016, especially since fuel and electricity prices had been rising steadily.
To read my report on the November 2016 exchange, click here.
To see the treasurer’s comparative figures and his notes on the costs of running the old and new buildings, click here.