Politicians decide they want to ensure their finger prints are all over whatever Civic Square is going to look like.

background 100By Pepper Parr

June 25th, 2019



They came looking for a little bit more money and left with marching orders to do it all over again.

It was not a pleasant Standing Committee session for the people at Capital Works.

And it was a chance to get a good look at how this city council is likely to work going forward.

The request for additional funding was placed on the Consent agenda which is a list of agenda items that are thought to not require any debate.

Nisan with ward 3 residents

Rory Nisan with ward 3 constituents before he was elected Councillor.

Ward 3 Councillor Nisan spotted something he didn’t like and asked that it be taken off the consent agenda and added to the regular agenda which was pretty full.

Little did anyone know that the item would consume hours of discussion.

Council realized that they had not had all that much in the way of a close look at what was proposed for Civic Square.

After the holding of the Walk Off the Earth tribute and the Burlassic park event that covered all six of the NBA Championship games that made the Toronto Raptors the league champions, Burlington began to see Civic Square as something more than a place for public gatherings – it was THE public space and needed more polish and an image boost.

Also, taking out trees when a Climate Crisis had been declared was a stretch.

After some discussion, led to a large degree by the Mayor with input on what should be in the space by Councilor Nisan, Council decided this was too important a matter for staff to decide.

They were sent back to their desks and told to rethink and work on possible options on how to use the provincial funding before it expires. The tender is not moving forward at this point.

The Staff recommendation was to approve the tender for the Civic Square Renewal that came in at 1,162,922.61

The city was going to have to borrow to complete the project which came in $250,000 over the allocated amount.

Council was being asked to approve a total project cost of $ 1,198,000 with the money coming from the following sources.

Capital Purposes Reserve Fund           $294,100
Federal Gas Tax                                 $265,000
Infrastructure Reserve Fund                 $130,000
Park Dedication Reserve Fund              $118,900
Public Benefits Reserve Fund                  $50,000
Senior Government Funding                  $190,000
Tax Supported Debt                              $150,000
Total Project Financing                     $1,198,000

Fig 3

A lot of work was done on the plans for a revitalized civic Square – much of it was done before and during the election campaign – and got lost. Now that city Council knows what staff had in mind – Council wants more input.

The original Civic Square construction was completed in 1984. It had reached the end of its life cycle and no longer met the city’s 2016 Accessibility standards.

UW crowd at civic square

Civic Square as it is today – used for staff events, other public events including some of thee Raptors NBA games. City Council wants something with more in the way of prestige.

In the summer of 2018, the City was provided with a Provincial Downtown Main Street Revitalization Initiative grant. City Council approved use of the grant towards the renewal of Civic Square given its importance to civic life and its relationship with Brant Street. To receive this funding the project had to be completed by March 31, 2020; it became critical to build in the summer and early fall to meet the deadline.

The summer and fall of 2018 was the election time frame that delivered a new city council. The focus during that campaign was who the new Mayor was going to be – a period of time when things got a little nasty and no one saw Civic Square as an issue.

Given the significance of Civic Square, an extensive public engagement process was developed and implemented with the goal to involve the public in shaping the design decisions. Public engagement made it clear that residents supported the continued use of Civic Square for festivals, events and other public uses. Residents also asked the City to make Civic Square a greener space with healthy trees.

Planting trees in a multi-use urban setting such as Civic Square is problematic with vehicles and large numbers of people traveling over the root zones. This requires the use of new technologies to ensure the long-term health of the trees. To achieve a sustainable environment for trees, the project includes the use of large structural soil cells for tree planting. These structures have the added benefit of storing storm water which slows the impact on the storm sewer system. This construction method is considered a positive action to help fight climate change.

The timeline set out in the staff report made it clear that Capital Works was engaging the public as well as they could. It was the incumbents and the candidates who missed the issue.

The estimated project cost was $948,000 – the project budget grew to $1,198,000 – an overage of of $250,000.

Capital Works explained the overage with the following comments:

1. Higher than anticipated costs by tendering landscape construction in late spring (after most qualified contractors have a full work schedule).
2. Higher than anticipated costs to build the pavement foundation.
3. Higher than anticipated costs to build structural cells for healthy tree growth.
4. Additional cost to relocate fire hydrant for festival and events access.
5. Additional cost to replace end-of-life electrical cabinets at the edge of Civic Square and Brant Street (at the Queen’s Head driveway).

The people at Capital Works have tendered 18 projects to date in 2019. The total approved budget for these projects was $24.75 million. The total cost at award for these projects was $22.94 million, as awarded through Delegated Authority Reports.

In their report Capital Works argued that the positive variance of $1.81 million could be directed to the Civic Square project to make up the difference between Budget Total Cost and the Tender Award Total Cost.

Capital Works tendering is not a science, unexpected issues arise, there are surprises – look at the Pier experience and the plans to do something different with New Street.

Capital Works didn’t think there was all that big an issue. What they didn’t see coming was a council that was determined to do things differently. They wanted to be much more hands on and they weren’t about to let something as significant as Civic Square get determined by any staff group.

Expect the same kind of thinking to get put into play when construction begins to take place across the street from city hall.

The hubub over the matter of $250,000 wasn’t the real concern. Council would find a way around that – of prime concern was – what kind of a Civic Square is the city going to have. Councillor Nisan began to focus on the public art that was being proposed and wanted to know where the design came from and who made the decisions.

What started out as a Consent Agenda matter became an item that got significant discussion at one Standing Committee meeting and even more at a meeting days later when Staff were brought in to answer questions.

Sharman with Angela Papxx

Angela Paparizo, Manger of Cultural programs in conversation with Ward 5 Councillor Paul Sharman.

Angela Paparizo was pressed to explain who made the art decisions. Nisan didn’t like what he had seen so far – he was unaware that the city has a public art specialist on contract.

Capital Works had done its job of soliciting and sourcing public art; the consultant under contract was part of the process, the Manager of Cultural Programs Angela Paparizo did everything she was supposed to do.

None of that mattered – Council didn’t want to hand this one off to staff.

They were told to come back with other ideas to spend the provincial money.

Capital Works will scramble to see if they can come up with a project somewhere in the city that meets the Provincial Downtown Main Street Revitalization Initiative grant criteria.

The shade structure that was proposed will probably never see the light of day.

It might be some time before the public sees a renewed Civic Square – they had better get it right the first time – the public tends to get nasty when elected officials decide to be arts experts.

Related news stories:

Some public engagement did take place.

The plans were well known – Council was apparently asleep at the switch.


Return to the Front page
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

4 comments to Politicians decide they want to ensure their finger prints are all over whatever Civic Square is going to look like.

  • Louise F.

    Civic Square is fine as is. Besides, shouldn’t City Hall be looking for ways to re-coup the $500,000.00 that vanished back in May??? I definitely wanted to comment on that story a few weeks ago but commenting was down. I’d still like to see the Gazette look into this further. City Hall went silent pretty quickly after quietly confirming they’d been scammed. And they chose to go public with the news the night of game six of the NBA finals. How convenient.

  • James

    $1.2 MILLION??? For a few trees, bollards and benches??? A private company would have already built it by now for under $50K. It’s a week worth of work. Am I missing something???

  • David

    What a farce haha – maybe they should be more concerned about big employers like Wescam leaving to Hamilton – there goes 1,200 highly skilled workers moving to Hamilton. Great job Council, keep making Burlington the bedroom community it is. Can’t wait for amalgamation to tidy up house.

  • Penny Hersh

    Rightly so that the Council refused to allow the proposed design to proceed. It was cold and uninviting, perhaps to mimic what staff though was appropriate for the Elgin Street Promenade across the street. Have to wonder if anyone ever tried out the benches that were installed in the Promenade, or thought that the grey concrete look was “green”. The plantings in that area are more mulch than anything else. Does it look better than simply a parking lot? – I will leave it up to the readers to decide. It certainly does not look like an oasis in the midst of the parking lot that abuts it.

    Civic Square deserves more than trying to “beat out the clock” to use a grant.