York headquarters priced at $212M
Administrative building’s cost divides residents, with some saying numbers don’t add up
After years of planning, York Region is moving ahead with plans for a new $212-million headquarters — a price tag some residents are calling “enormous.”
The eight-storey, 422,000-squarefoot building will connect with the current regional government headquarters in Newmarket. When it opens in 2020, it will offer a range of services, including Ontario Works, housing services and provincial courts, according to Dino Basso, the commissioner of corporate services.
“The main building, which we call the annex, is a public facing community health and services building,” Basso said. “It is consolidating a number of programs that are currently being delivered in other locations in the area.”
Last month, council awarded a $172-million construction contract to EllisDon Corp., one of the last steps in a planning process that began a decade ago.
According to a business case presented to council in 2013, staff said the building was needed for the expansion of the provincial courts, a need to “centralize” services and give the administration room to grow. The current building, constructed in 1994, houses more than 1,000 staff, more than it was meant for. Staff also found that by getting out of current leases of buildings where the services are being offered, the region could save between $26 million and $60 million over a 30-year period.
But the numbers don’t add up, say some York region residents.
“The costs of this are enormous,” said Maddie di Muccio, a former Newmarket councillor and the president of the York Region Taxpayers Coalition. “Spending $212 million in hopes of saving $20 million in rents over 20 years doesn’t make a lot of sense.” Durham Region opened up a new administrative centre in 2005 and spent about half as much, $67.7-million, for a 334,000-square-foot building. They spent an additional $14.5-million to build a parking structure nearby.
Other residents say it’s unclear how the building will serve the needs of the majority of residents who live in the southern part of York Region.
“I think it is counterproductive to have the regional offices so far away from the majority of the residents of the region,” Markham resident Marilyn Ginsburg said, adding that it would take a resident in southern York Region about 30 minutes to drive to the annex.
In a staff report last year, the region acknowledged this issue and said it was leasing a building in Richmond Hill to provide some of the same services the new building will offer. The region also said it would look for options for additional service centres in Markham.
“We need facilities in all parts of York Region to meet service delivery needs of our growing population,” the report said.
Basso said that “nobody can deny that these are large numbers,” but “we are a growing community . . . that needs roads, sewers and community health services . . . and that’s what we believe we are doing in this case.”
Basso said the building is an “investment in the future.”
Construction is scheduled to last about three years. It is expected to start in early 2017.
Construction on York Region’s new building is scheduled to start next year and take about three years.