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.
The proper way to audit the energy efficiency of a building is not in dollars but in energy used, as the cost of energy is always changing. It would be interesting to have the actual energy consumption numbers so we can compare apples to apples.
I am not sure I like this whole business of “Green Municipal Fund” with its grants AND loans to municipalities. It can make our municipalities (provincial jurisdictions) too dependent on the federal government, for a long time on top of that (even if the interest rate is low). Do we really need more debts in the province? I wonder if we can find another alternative way for the same purposes. How about involving a partnership with the private sector as needed, project by project? How about another idea “more made in NB” for this same “green” purpose (if absolutely needed at this point in time)? Could this work, I wonder.
Rima … I hear what you’re saying, but for the existing new town hall building complex, it’s already a ‘done deal’. What we CAN do perhaps is to learn from this example, when a new mega-project idea comes along.
I’m afraid the Treasurer’s explanation simply raises more questions than it answers, which I find all too frequently is the case with local goverrnance issues. However, it is what it is, and we are now stuck with paying the bills for what we have.
Thank you Sharon.
One of my sisters made a funny yet interesting comment once: She made me realize, that in Lebanon, touristic villages or towns we were driving through had different sizes and fanciness to their municipality buildings. Some looked literally like castles bigger than private luxury houses. Others looked more normal/humble. Her comment was: the size correlates with the overspending and sometimes with other fishy tendencies of the town’s public affairs. The fancier/bigger the building, the less transparent those affairs. Interesting observation… I am not saying this comment would make sense here…. it just made me smile as I spent the rest of my trip paying attention to those buildings :).
Louis once noticed how sometimes we can see the smallest or poorest countries with the fanciest embassies in Ottawa. Interesting observation too, I find.
The new town hall is hardly a Taj Mahal or Mega Project. It is a pretty bland looking municipal building that was designed with an eye on energy usage and the environment during construction and operation (LEED). It would be irresponsible not to consider these things when building any building in this day and age let alone a town’s primary municipal building.