Prince Edward County’s Newspaper of Record
May 19, 2024
19° Partly Cloudy
March 11, 2024
Volume 194 No. 11

Condition Critical

Hard decisions ahead about the County’s large portfolio of heritage community buildings
<p>The historic Crystal Palace. (Gazette file photo)</p>
The historic Crystal Palace. (Gazette file photo)

Late last summer, in August 2023, the County retained Roth IAMS, an engineering consulting firm, to undertake a Building Condition Assessment of its portfolio of 49 aging and, in some cases, underused buildings. 

Ayden Townsend, IAMS Roth Practice Leader, was at Council last month to present a summary of the findings.

They are grim.

The engineers estimate the County’s heritage structures require an investment of $5 million per year over the next ten years to bring them up to code.

The ten-year total of deferred maintenance and necessary renovation and renewal work across the buildings is $52 million.

As Mayor Steve Ferguson noted, “this is a very sobering report. The buildings have been neglected for decades.”

Mr. Townsend agreed, noting the buildings had received “minimal maintenance, enough to keep buildings open, that’s about it.”

Councillor Braney was brisk. “We need to consider parting ways with some of these buildings; the County’s entire budget right now is $90 million.”

The plan is to sell some of them off. The dream is to find investors who want to restore heritage buildings, and have the capital required. “There are opportunities out there, private businesses may purchase buildings and improve them,” said Councillor Braney.

“It’s time to start building our coffers up, making some smart decisions.”

The only problem is, how to decide? What goes, what stays? And what if those dream investors don’t come along?

An Asset Management Plan

The Roth IAMS study is a two-year project funded by a Federation of Canadian Municipalities grant. The report presented to Council was a summary of technical assessments that include 200-300 pages of condition reports on every building in the study.

The goal is to help the County to create an asset management plan.

“Staff will bring forward options to inform a multi-year capital budget later this summer,” said CAO Marcia Wallace.

Evaluating options requires something called a facilities condition index. FCI is a number assigned by dividing the estimated costs of renovation by the replacement cost of the building. “Renewal needs divided by replacement value gives a percentage,” said Mr. Townsend. “We use that to rate the buildings. Anything less than about 10per cent is ok, whereas anything over 30 per cent is in critical condition.”

The Wellington Town Hall, with an FCI of 76 per cent, is the worst-ranked community building. Among the 20 Community Use Facilities the municipality maintains, the average FCI is 12.4 per cent. That’s not great, but it’s not terrible, either.

The “community-use” facilities — town halls, community centers and the like — in the portfolio are in poor condition.  So are the County’s operations buildings. Several pumping stations are on the critical list. 

The lion’s share of the $5.3 million required this year would go to community halls ($3.35 million). The County’s office and administration buildings collectively require an investment of $750,000. Fire Halls and operations buildings including waterworks account for the remainder ($366,000).

“An important part of the work ahead is to develop a plan to deal with the buildings we have and how to maintain them. That plan must take into account not just the building condition, but accessibility, heritage, and importance. It’s a decision-making process,” said Ms. Wallace.

Mr. Townsend was clear on the importance of developing criteria to rank and prioritize what must go, and what can be kept.

“Roth IAMS is not suggesting that the County needs to spend $95,667,628 dollars over the next 30 years,” he said.

Rather, “the County needs to develop a strategic Asset Management Plan that will act as a guide for how best to invest in its assets over the next 20-30 years. This plan should take into consideration not only building condition information, but also include accessibility, heritage status, rates and type of use — the building’s importance to the community — to make a fully informed decision about the future of each asset.”

This text is from the Volume 194 No. 11 edition of The Picton Gazette
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