Frontenac County Chief Administrative Officer Kelly Pender came to Council two years ago with a concern and a proposal about how to approach it.
He said that the Frontenac County Administrative Office, which is located in what is known as the ‘Old House’ at the Fairmount Home, the county owned long term care facility, are inadequate. The converted house still looks and feels more like a house than an office, and is inefficient in terms of space and energy use. He said that the county should consider either a major renovation, or a new build, either on the same site or another location.
Council did not exactly jump for joy at the prospect of having to raise funds for a new office, but they did not say no.
Pender prepared some scenarios for Council to consider and did some preliminary costing for a facility of just over 8,000 square feet. A task force (the Administrative Building Design Task Force) was set up to look at it, but the project never really got off the ground. The cost was high, Council did not know if a new build or a renovation was the best option. Over time the committee meetings became less and less frequent. After meeting in April of 2017, the task force seemed to be spent. It did not meet again in 2017, and it looked like nothing was going to happen on this file during the current term of council.
That all changed when the county was approached by the Cataraqui Region Conservation Authority (CRCA) at the beginning of this year. CRCA is looking to explore the idea of co-locating administrative offices since their current office needs to be replaced. The Cataraqui watershed runs east-west from Leeds and a Thousand Islands to Lennox and Addington, including a large chunk of the most populated sections of South Frontenac and northern Kingston. South Frontenac Council members have been very active on the CRCA board over the years, often serving as chair. The current chair of the CRCA is Alan Revill, the Bedford District representative on South Frontenac Council.
The advantage of a combined project, according to Pender, would result in savings in construction costs as some functions would not need to be duplicated, such as a foyer, council chamber, septic system, etc.
“If each organisation needed an 8,000 square foot building, a combined building would be smaller, and at $300 per square foot in estimated construction costs, every square foot we don’t have to build saves money for each of us,” Pender told a meeting of Frontenac County Council in February.
As well there could be efficiencies over the lifetime of the building.
“There would only need to be one maintenance department, one parking lot to maintain, and so on” Pender said.
The task force met in March with reps from the CRCA staff and board, and they toured the existing buildings and sites.
At that meeting, the two organisations were considering using one of their current locations for a building, either at the Little Cat Conservation Centre, located just north of Hwy. 401 on Perth Road, or at the Fairmount Home site. But after the meeting, members of South Frontenac Council, and some Frontenac County residents, put pressure on politicians to consider a location within Frontenac County for a new office. This came as a surprise to the CRCA board, who were reluctant to look at adding property acquisition to the cost of a new building and were concerned about locating their offices too far north of Hwy. 401, as their staff are constantly traveling around the watershed on the 401 and they did not want to add more travel time to their office.
At the same time, one of the members of Frontenac County Council who sits on the accommodation task force, John Inglis from North Frontenac, expressed doubts about the suitability of Frontenac County and the CRCA co-locating because they are such different organisations.
“I don’t see a lot of similarity between the North-South Frontenac County and the east-west conservation authority, either in geography or function, and co-locating suggests a pretty strong relationship. What does that mean when we have three other conservation authorities in Frontenac County. Having both names on a building suggests a relationship that does not make sense to me,” he said.
Rob Wood from 80/20 consulting was then hired to facilitate a session between CRCA and Frontenac County officials, to see if a consensus could emerge to move a combined project forward. One new thing emerged from that session. According to Mayor Ron Vandewal, South Frontenac township is also looking at a new administrative building to serve its long term needs, and might be willing to get involved.
When the idea was brought to the July meeting of South Frontenac Council on July 3rd, it was met with a muted response by Council. Some members of council supported it but some were less enthusiastic. A report on the matter was received by Council, with the next projected step being to determine the township’s needs as regards new office space.
On July 18, Wood met in the morning with the CRCA and at noon with the Administrative Building Design Task Force.
“In one way, we have a collaborative approach,” he said, “and on the other hand you each need to meet on your own.”
South Frontenac Mayor Ron Vandewal asked if the CRCA was willing to consider an office space in Frontenac County.
“I think it is fair to say from the meeting this morning that they are not ruling out a site in the county,” Woods answered, “but Rutlege Road is pretty well their northern boundary.”
That brings Harrowsmith, Sydenham and Inverary into the mix for a location.
And John Inglis from North Frontenac as well as Natalie Nossal from Frontenac Islands both indicated they were more comfortable with a three way partnership with South Frontenac than a two way one with just CRCA.
“This idea I find a lot more exciting, because I can see retaining the identity of the county,” said Inglis.
“The natural alliance between a township of the county and the county itself is a far more natural relationship if you are going to have two parties involved, than just with CRCA,” she said.
Out of all this, a vision is emerging. A functional building to house the administrative offices of South Frontenac Township, Frontenac County, and the Cataraqui Region Conservation Authority. The building would have: a central foyer, a council chamber big enough for a 15 member council, medium sized meeting rooms, space for a combined Information Technology department, a lunchroom and washrooms. it woulsd also have separate wings or floors for the administrative offices of each of the three organisations. Alternatively it could be a three or four building compound on a small campus.
The next step in the process, as suggested by Rob Wood, is to consider whether the savings are really there for each organisation.
“Is there an amount of savings that is not enough for the bother of working together,” Wood asked.
“15 top 20 per cent” said Inglis.
Further complicating the costing calculations for Frontenac County is the fact that the Old House would remain a county building if vacated and would need to be maintained unless a tenant could be found.
A tentative timeline emerged from the meeting. A meeting of the heads of council, CAO’s and senior staff from all three potential partners may be in the works, to determine what each of them requires and to form the basis to look for some more concrete information about building costs.
The idea is to have some kind of a proposal in place when the new councils take office in January, with the time frame for a potential build within 4-5 years.
Ron Vandewal said that South Frontenac could build and ultimately own the building, with the other two parties entering into a long term lease. If there are 3 partners, the building could contains as many as 90 full time staff, which would create some spin off business for whichever community it ends up being located in or near.
Not quite the Frontenac County version of the Amazon headquarters 2 city decision, but significant nonetheless.