The City of Nanaimo’s public works yard on Labieux Street. (News Bulletin file photo)

City of Nanaimo begins project planning for multimillion-dollar public works yard upgrades

Councillors vote to reallocate $200,000 to develop architectural concepts and cost estimates

Nanaimo’s public works yard is overdue for upgrades that could cost $40 million or more, and the city is starting project planning now.

City councillors, at a finance and audit meeting Wednesday, voted unanimously to reallocate $200,000 within the current budget to develop an architectural concept and cost estimate for upgrades to public works facilities on Labieux Road.

The 4.8-hectare property is the site of the city’s public works administration, fleet operations and more, and the fleet maintenance shop would be the first phase of potential upgrades, noted a staff report.

“Many of the parts of the building are actually trailers, really meant for temporary expansion but have sort of become a permanent part of the facility…” said Poul Rosen, the city’s director of engineering. “In terms of condition of the facility, these are essentially near or at or in some cases beyond the typical life span [and] they’ve been sustained … by piecemeal maintenance.”

He said the fleet maintenance building has seismic deficiencies which not only pose a safety concern for workers, but could also be an issue from an emergency management standpoint, in terms of city fleet capabilities in a disaster.

Coun. Sheryl Armstrong asked for cost estimate, which wasn’t included in the staff report, and asked if it would be $10, 20, 30, 40 million. Rosen said depending on the scale of the administration building, “it’ll be at the upper end of that, maybe beyond that.” He said part of the project planning is ensuring “there’s a funding plan that’s palatable.”

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Rosen said planning will include investigating opportunities across city departments. He said the parks operations yard on Prideaux Street, for example, has some similar functions, and noted that the city’s engineering department is currently split between downtown and the public works yard.

Rosen said planning would take six months to a year, and city staff would then come back before council with a project plan and a funding plan.

Armstrong, Mayor Leonard Krog and councillors Don Bonner and Ian Thorpe voiced support for the project, with Thorpe saying “the sooner the city gets started on this project, the better.”

The $200,000 for project planning is being reallocated from money that had been budgeted for a drainage project on Stewart Avenue that will happen at a later date.

As councillors viewed the public works yard site plan at Wednesday’s meeting, Coun. Zeni Maartman asked about bathtub storage, and was advised that that’s where the world’s largest bathtub is kept when it isn’t afloat in the harbour.

“We’re the bathtub capital of the world, and we have bathtub storage,” said Bill Sims, general manager of engineering and public works.

“We don’t want to pull the plug on that,” said Thorpe.

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