The parameters of the proposed Bulkley Valley Arts and Culture Centre were set by Smithers council last Tuesday.
The total area for a combined art gallery and library space at the current library location at the end of Main Street was set at 12,000 square feet. That was passed with councillors Shelley Browne and Phil Brienesse opposed.
The Town will soon be taking proposals for the concept design, business case and programming clarification for how the building would be used. No price was set for this step, nor for the total cost of the building.
The original concept design by the Smithers Public Library alone a decade ago was $150,000. The 2017 budget included $100,000 for a concept design and business case.
“We’re trying to create some parameters that force the conversation about collaboration [between the library and gallery] and space efficiency. I actually think having the parameter just around square feet will move us to that place of having a highly space efficient building and then from that, based on the consultant’s work on building design — one storey versus two stories, the efficiency of the envelope, the operating costs, the energy system — from that would come the budget for the project,” said Mayor Taylor Bachrach, who put forward the motion to build at 12,000 sq. ft.
The budget for a building to house the gallery and library, plus the Bulkley Valley Museum and Visitors Centre, was proposed at $10 million.
During the pre-feasibility study released in June, space requirements not including shared space savings nor the added space for a mechanical room, gift shop, cloak room, etc. was calculated based on the gallery and library’s asks to be nearly 13,000 square feet. A staff report suggested the actual space with the asks would be in the 15,000 sq. ft. range.
There was debate on how large the centre should be to make it usable well into the future. It was pointed out that while Smithers’ population (and tax base) has remained steady over the decades, use of the library in particular has greatly increased.
“Don’t cut it off at the knees before we start,” implored Coun. Gladys Atrill. “We’ve all seen public buildings built that the moment they’re built people already feel they’re way undersized, and I think that’s a disservice to the community … There’s no reason to not build something that can last 100 years.”
Comparisons to the new arena were made.
“At a certain point because the Town of Smithers is going to own and operate the building in perpetuity, it’s up to us to demonstrate the leadership and create a container … and this is what we had to do with the arena, for better or worse. Maybe some people feel like we need that planning container too small by setting the budget at, I think it was $4.7 million at the time, which is quite inexpensive for an arena. And maybe we should have set the budget higher and had more seating in the plan,” said Bachrach.
“But that was the decision of the day based on the exact same thing: It comes down to a fairly arbitrary, gut-level decision around what is affordable to the community. I don’t know if we can get more information that could help that decision. It comes down to if we’re going to pay for a third of it, what is reasonable to expect the taxpayers of the community to put up in terms of their contribution.”
Using the pre-feasibility consultant’s estimated cost of $400/ft2, that would put the cost of a 15,000 sq. ft. library and art building at $6 million plus $2.1 million for site development, off-site works, landscaping, etc. for a total of $8.1 million. Council’s constraint of 12,000 sq. ft. would put the cost of the building at $4.8 million plus $2.1 million, for a total of $6.9 million.
A motion earlier in the meeting by Coun. Phil Brienesse to limit the building to 11,000 sq. ft. at a total cost of $6.4 million for the building and off-site work was defeated with only Brienesse and Coun. Frank Wray voting for it.
To avoid turning Veteran’s Peace Park into a parking lot, a motion was put forward to get a staff report on possibly reducing parking requirements in that zone. That motion was postponed.
The off-site works are meant to include moving the cenotaph closer to the end of Main Street.
A second phase with no set date is intended once this project is done. It would include a museum and visitors centre in a landscaped Central Park at Main Street and Highway 16.
More gallery space
Council also agreed to lease the empty building at 3866 Railway Avenue for $1 per year to the Smithers Art Gallery. The gallery would be responsible for any needed renovations and utility costs.
The intent is to create two workshop spaces, an office, a supply storage room and a meeting room. Collaboration with the Smithers recreation department is also a potential.