NOTE: The plan according to Mayor Taylor Bachrach is to apply for an 80 per cent grant after the announcement of an up to $1-million matching community donations pledge, leaving the Town on the hook for $1 million to be borrowed if approved by referendum or alternative approval process.
How much to ask from the Province for a limited federal/provincial grant pool of cash to build a new $15.872-million library and art gallery building was contemplated at Smithers council last Tuesday.
In the end it was decided to have staff prepare a grant for a full 90 per cent of the new and rare high percentage program. That would leave the Town on the hook for its 10 per cent share of $1.587 million.
But as was pointed out by council, the Rural and Northern Communities Program only has $95 million to give. With such a high percentage of the bill being paid for by the higher levels of government, other municipalities would likely be lining up for some of that money, too, though the early deadline of January may leave Smithers at an advantage with it already having a prepared business case.
But that would still mean at the full amount, Smithers would be taking 16.7 per cent of a program’s cash intended to be spread throughout rural B.C. to communities with populations under 25,000. The eligible infrastructure is also very open — anything from roads, sewer and libraries applies.
This is why council wants to rely on fundraising, with a possible $1 million from one donor being lined up before the deadline. The Smithers Exploration Group is interested in being a part of the project, which would add 1,500 square feet to the 12,000-sq.-ft. building plan, and the library board has been in touch with potential big donors.
Mayor Taylor Bachrach laid out the thinking on how council could approach getting the grant with its direction to Town staff:
“The strategy of what some of council would like to pursue is to maximize our chance with a provincial grant by putting more skin in the game on behalf of the community,” he said, adding only asking for 80 per cent funding may give Smithers a better shot at getting approved.
That would mean taxpayers and fundraisers would be on the hook for over $3 million.
But Bachrach said no matter the approach, if donations come in or don’t by the grant deadline of Jan. 23, the borrowing bylaw and grant application numbers can be changed in time.
Coun. Frank Wray changed his mind on how to approach it, and changed Councillors Gladys Atrill and Phil Brienesse’s minds, too. His latest position after reading the grant fine print convinced the rest of council to be prepared to try to get the full 90 per cent amount to make the building a reality.
He pointed out that the grant program does specifically mention projects over $10 million needing to show a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emission. The proposed building is to be at Passive House standards, significantly reducing emissions.
Wray also pointed to the past as a cautionary tale.
“When we asked the community to raise the last $400,000 of the arena and gave them a short [time], the community came through but we had a $50,000 donation from Dan Hamhuis to kick that off so it was really only $350,000, and we just squeaked under the wire as the donations came in at the end,” said Wray.
“So we did do it, but to go out and ask for even more in an even shorter time frame would endanger it. And the other danger is if you go out and do a major fundraising drive and you get all these people interested in the project, and then the grant gets turned down, you’ve burned all those bridges.”
Of course, all this is based on the idea that it passes either a referendum or alternative approval process for the Town borrowing. The price tag is also based on getting construction started by 2021.
To see an example of what the Smithers Art Gallery can offer, the 6x6 fundraising auction is on this week with a big wine and cheese finale on Friday.
The Smithers Art Gallery’s 6x6 Auction is back! This is a fun and exciting community art event and a major fundraiser for the Gallery.
Up for auction will be a variety of 6x6-inch-sized artwork created by community members, from well-known local artists to emerging talents of all ages. Artwork has even been received from as far afield as the Toronto. The auction is anonymous, with all pieces signed on the back only, so the artists are only revealed to the winning bidders after the hammer falls. This year’s theme is ‘Journeys.’
All the artwork will be exhibited at the Gallery for bidding by silent auction from Oct. 16-19.
Admission for the finale starting at 7 p.m. is $10, which includes a free glass of wine or craft beer and appetizers as well as donated door-prizes of art materials by Opus Art Supplies, and a free bidding ticket. Tickets are for sale in advance at the Gallery, or at the door. Any artwork which remains unsold after the auction can be purchased for a $10 flat fee on Oct. 22 from 10 a.m.-1 p.m.