When it comes to capital projects, the town of Bracebridge is eyeing some lofty heights.
With a new hockey arena, library and fire hall on the Town’s shortlist of projects, council is going to be under the gun to stretch tax dollars while coming up with significant infrastructure upgrades.
The first of the big ticket items scheduled for completion is the Fire Hall/ EMS building, which is currently under construction on Taylor Road.
“Our fire department has been working out of very cramped conditions for years, as the size and type of equipment necessary to properly outfit departments continues to expand,” says Bracebridge Mayor Graydon Smith. The volunteer firefighters also require space to work on improving their skills, he adds.
“The new facility will provide a much better home for both the equipment and these activities while remaining focused on preserving capital (through combining the sites and sharing some costs) that can be deployed in other areas.”
It’s expected that the project will be completed this year, and the cost has been pegged at $7.5 million. However, the location will also be home to the District of Muskoka’s new EMS facility, and they have agreed to essentially split the cost with the Town.
Another project which has garnered a lot of public attention over the past 12 months is the potential creation and/or renovation of the Town’s arena and hockey rink.
The idea of co-locating the two facilities at a new location next door to Monck School, just off Wellington Street, appeared to be the front running idea but in the past few months there has been a petition and some public push towards renovating the existing library downtown.
“We’ll see a clearer picture in 2017 of what, and in the case of the Library, where, these projects will look like and what they will cost,” says Smith. “Then we’ll be able to move on to the next step, huge step, of funding these projects and advocating to higher levels of government that they not only replace what we have but build more capacity into our community to grow and prosper in the future.”
While the high profile capital projects garner the majority of public attention, Smith says it’s important to remember “the king of all projects,” remains infrastructure needs like bridges, roads and culverts. The same problem of crumbling infrastructure is currently being playing out across the country, and Smith says the Town will do what they can to create incremental improvement, while looking to the upper tier governments for funding help.
Overall, Smith says he’s pleased with the progress the Town has made on the capital projects front and now they want to turn their attention towards some other projects for 2017 as well.
“We’re just at the beginning of a Recreation Master Planning process, looking at the inventory of what we have, and what we need for the future,” he says. “That hasn’t been done for decades.”
Convergence – a community-based strategic plan – could also use some tweaking, says Smith. “We need to refresh that document and will consult with the community to ensure it’s an accurate reflection of their desires.”
Smith says the Town also plans to put a lot of energy into the downtown core, as downtown areas everywhere continue to come under increasing threat from online shopping and other pressures. To that end Smith says they hope to launch a Downtown Master Planning Process to help “future-proof” the community.
Looking back on the year that was, Smith says he’s most proud that the Town was finally able to implement a public transportation system, which is something that’s been discussed by many councils over the course of many years. The second phase of the project, an on-demand accessible bus system, will be launched in early 2017.
“Ridership has been higher than anticipated and our approach of starting modestly and incremental growth seems to be the right one,” says Smith. “It’s been very heartwarming to hear from residents that say it’s improving their mobility around town. The feedback from the public has been great – both pro and con – and staff are using it to develop a better system over time.”
Another big milestone for 2017 was the donation of land from the Willen/Goble family to the Town to help build the new arena. Smith says the donation was vital to the Town because it allowed them to acquire their first choice piece of property with no property costs attached.
While there are many potentially costly projects in the offing, Smith says he and do everything they can to make their decisions based on value to the taxpayers.
“We don’t run operating deficits like other levels of government so we count on the public to pay the real-time cost for the services we deliver,” he says. “We have modest capital debt and, while it will grow as more facilities come online, it will be planned and be within our capacity to handle.”