Construction values surpass $151 million in Centre Wellington

Last year was a good one for building activity in Centre Wellington.

In presenting the 2016 annual building report to council on March 20, chief building official Randy Bossence said, “The numbers are quite incredible. It’s been a very large increase in a very short amount of time.”

Bossence said overall construction values jumped 56%, from $96,634,306 in 2015 to $151,126,355 in 2016.

Construction values in 2014 were $73,993,052, an amount more in line with previous years.

Bossence stated current construction activity is occurring across all sectors, particularly commercial, agricultural and residential. Some significant permits of note from 2016 include:

– new County of Wellington 55-unit affordable housing apartment building  in Fergus ($12-million value);

– new 30-unit condominium apartment building in Salem ($8-million value)

– Elora Mill construction by Pearle Hospitality on the  north side of the Grand River ($7,748,662 value)

– addition and renovations to agricultural research building ($2,750,000 value)

– new gas station/restaurant development in south Fergus ($1,748,662 value)

– new dairy barn construction ($1.2-million value)

– building renovations to create bed and breakfast ($1.2 million);

– renovations to Aboyne library ($900,000 value); and

– new industrial storage building at Jefferson Elora Corp. ($800,000 value).

Bossence said new residential building permit activity was quite strong in 2016, with 307 permits issued for a construction value of $108,938,618.

That marks “a significant increase” over 2014 (184 permits) and 2015 (224 permits), said Bossence.

“All sectors were pretty strong, but residential was the leader of the pack in 2016 and accounted for the lion’s share of the construction value.”

Miscellaneous residential building permit activity was also significant, with 254 permits issued for a construction value of $8,242,800.

This compares with 282 permits issued with a construction value of $7,891,364 in 2015; and 202 permits with a construction value of $5,311,265 in 2014.

Commercial, institutional and industrial building permit activity was steady, with 59 permits issued with a construction value of $18,486,647 in 2016. This compares with 60 permits for value of $20,983,533 in 2015 and 66 permits with a value of $15,178,150 in 2014.

Agricultural building permit activity remained steady with 40 permits issued for a construction value of $8,938,550 in 2016. This compares with 41 permits and $7,813,800 respectively in 2015 and 33 and $5,593,500 in 2014.

Demolition permit activity was up slightly with 26 permits issued in 2016, compared to 24 in 2015 and 19 in 2014.

In addition to building permits, the building division also issues sign permits. Sign permit activity remained consistent, with 77 permits issued in 2016, compared to 80 in 2015 and 70 in 2014.

Bossence said the flip side of issuing more building permits is that more building inspections are required.

As a result of last year’s growth, he said the number of building inspections totalled 4,262.

Councillor Steven VanLeeuwen asked how the growth would impact the building department’s ability to keep up with inspections.

He pointed to the increased workload due to the Elora Mill project and the future new Groves hospital.

“Do you have a plan to keep up?”

Bossence agreed the Pearle project will be very time consuming, as will the new hospital’s two-year build.

He noted his previous inspection position was not replaced when he became chief building official, because inspections were down at the time.

“It is inevitable … only a certain amount of hands can do a certain amount of work,” said Bossence.

He assured council the workload was being considered. It has already impacted the department’s ability to undertake bylaw enforcement.

“Financially speaking, the building department is running like a business,” he said, adding extra funds generated by the department go into a reserve fund at the end of the year – in case of a downturn.

Bossence said there is now a healthy reserve fund as a result of building in the past few years, but, “The short answer is that the numbers suggest we do need to hire another building official.”

Councillor Mary Lloyd asked who decides when that decision is made. Lloyd said she would hate to see a situation where the department was unable to keep up with the workload. She noted the recruitment process for building inspectors tends to take a long time.

Bossence said he continues to monitor the situation to ensure provincial requirements are met.

He noted building activity in 2017 is actually “trending up over last year … believe it or not.” Bossence said the department may look at a contract position or full-time, but there a number of factors to consider.

He said he does not want to see the department in a crisis position and not able to meet requirements.

Councillor Fred Morris asked about the reserve balances and whether the current reserve was a record high.

Bossence stated in 2012, the department was in a deficit position.

“It wasn’t really until 2014, 2015 and 2016 that we came out of the negative and really started contributing healthy amounts to that reserve fund,” he said.

He added the reserve fund can be used for anything to help the department operate – from additional staff to equipment.

“But it has to relate to the department and the enforcement of the Ontario Building Code.”

Councilor Stephen Kitras asked for an estimate of how far ahead the building number were above 2016.

Bossence said that as of mid March, permits are up over 2016 between 10% to 15%.

He said there were a number of permits “waiting in the gate” until certain phases of a subdivision opened up.

“But construction is fickle,” Bossence said.