Accessibility a priority for new council chambers in Powell River

Plans include renovation of old public library space in city hall

Efforts are underway to relocate City of Powell River council chambers from the upper floor of city hall to the vacated former Powell River Public Library space on the ground floor.

At the committee of the whole meeting on Tuesday, September 3, city councillors heard from director of infrastructure Tor Birtig, who outlined steps that need to be taken to reconfigure the old library space.

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Birtig said council is well aware of the accessibility issues with city council chambers being located in the upstairs portion of Powell River City Hall.

“A number of times, accessibility has been a significant issue for members of our city,” said Birtig. “At one point we sought funding for an elevator to get people from our first floor up to the second floor, but when the library vacated the premises down below in 2017, we thought that would be a better option for the city.

“There have also been some additional staff members in our building and we’re finding it difficult to have appropriate office space within our premises here. We thought the lower floor would be a good candidate for the planning and building inspection department. We commenced work down there for a cleanup, we’ve done some carpeting, some electrical but we still have some significant items to cover down below, which include the removal of asbestos-containing walls.”

Birtig said it is believed that the majority of the work in the space can be done within budget and by the end of the year, but one thing that has come to light is that the air quality is inadequate in the old library space. A study conducted a few months back indicated that there are issues with heating and cooling, and ventilation as well.

Birtig said the air exchangers are not in keeping with current code, and as the city adds more staff members down there, and goes through additional heating cycles with climate change, it is going to run into issues.

In future budget deliberations, Birtig said the city should include the cost for a new heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system downstairs. According to a report written by Birtig, estimated cost is between $110,000 and $170,000. Window upgrades could amount to another $20,000.

Councillor CaroleAnn Leishman said she is really happy with the proposed design of the council chambers. She said the city absolutely needs to take into consideration the current building code requirements for heating and cooling, to have a comfortable environment.

“I’m totally in favour of having staff carry on with this relocation work and with us budgeting with what has to happen for heating, cooling and ventilation,” said Leishman. “Let’s do it right.”

Councillor George Doubt said it is time to make council chambers accessible so everyone who wants to participate can.

Councillor Maggie Hathaway asked if the city had investigated any funding opportunities for accessibility. Birtig said the city has not done so but could look into possibilities.

He said there is funding in place to use LED lighting in the space and with respect to the windows, there may be some energy funding available as well.

Committee of the whole will send the matter of the council chambers and planning department relocation to city council for consideration. Birtig’s recommendation is that council directs staff to proceed with the relocation of the chambers and planning department to the ground floor of the city hall building with funding allocated in the 2019 capital budget, and that council direct staff to include funding in the 2020 capital budget for installation of a heat pump with appurtenances on the ground floor of city hall and a building envelope review.

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