Planning department will move to new operations centre when constructed

Move would add $1.5 million to cost, 'address our long-term space needs': CAO

ELORA – What a difference two years makes.

When Centre Wellington staff undertook a space needs study for the new operations centre in 2021, it foresaw a growing population, corresponding growth in staff to 2041 as well as both a need for, and efficiencies in, having a central operations centre.

That study recommended the new operations centre house parks, public works, engineering, IT and water services departments as well as a greenhouse, sand and salt storage, mechanics bays, and space for large vehicles to move around.

But with the passing of Bill 23, the More Homes Built Faster Act, timelines for municipal planning staff to approve development proposals are now accelerated and Centre Wellington anticipates having to almost double its planning staff over the next few years.

A report to council at the committee of the whole meeting on March 13 recommends altering the design of the operations centre to accommodate the planning department as well, which would require adding square footage to the building and additional parking spots. 

This would add another $1.54 million to the cost, already pegged at a total of $27 million, excluding the purchase price of the property at 965 Gartshore St. in Fergus.

The project is to be funded by new debt and as 93% is growth-related, those charges will be recovered from future development charges (DC), treasurer Adam McNabb explained.    

“It won’t impact taxation or water and wastewater rates, but it will impact debt and DC cash flow,” McNabb said.

 The operations centre is still in the early stages, and there’s time and opportunity to alter the plan before shovels hit the ground, said manager of engineering Adam Gilmore.

CAO Dan Wilson said staff is already spread throughout the township:

  • 1 MacDonald Square, the municipal office in Elora, is at or beyond capacity;
  • the township’s six works garages make use of trailers and porta potties to accommodate staff; and
  • 205 Queen St. in Fergus, the township-owned property once used as a medical centre, is now the temporary home for the township’s IT department.

With all staff in the new operations centre or in MacDonald Square, 205 Queen St. could become a medical office again – something that would help recruit doctors to Centre Wellington.

And four of the six current works garages could then go up for sale and those funds could be applied to the cost of the operations centre.      

“We recommend moving planning from 1 MacDonald Square,” Wilson said.

“That would address our long-term space needs.

“And there are good synergies having planning and development, parks, and infrastructure services in the same place.”

Councillor Bronwynne Wilton wanted to know if the proposed one-storey facility could include a second level rather than spreading out to accommodate the planning department.

“That option still exists,” Gilmore said, adding the layout of the property was done with the works garage and its needs in mind.

Councillor Jennifer Adams was leery that approving the planning department move would lock council into approving a one-storey building.

“I’m unsure if the concept design of Option 2 is the best,” she said.

The property is currently farmland with a historic farmhouse and barn on the property.

Council also wanted to ensure the historic features had an appropriate use.

So, while they agreed to the staff-preferred option of relocating the planning department to the new operations centre, councillors also asked for a report on design options and the future use of the house.

There will also be a public meeting on the proposal sometime this spring, as the land will need to be rezoned.

Mayor Shawn Watters declared a conflict of interest and removed himself from discussion.

Councillor Denis Craddock was absent from the meeting.