Kew Gardens renovation upgrades nearly double budget

The contract awarded for the construction of the upcoming Kew Gardens redesign work is nearly double what was budgeted – up from the $650,000 pitched to residents at a community meeting in June 2014 to $1.1 million noted in city documents released late last year.

That’s because decisions were made to use better materials and complete the project in one shot, instead of in phases spanning several years, said Ward 32 city councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon, adding that proponents found more money for the project in city coffers to pay for the added costs.

“The architects, they always design a bigger and better project than what we budget for and then you can have add-ons or do it in phases,” McMahon said. “We ended up getting some financing from other departments, like the accessibility department … We can incorporate more of the plan now and do it in one fell swoop.”

Beach resident Carole Wilson says McMahon should have consulted residents at a public meeting once she realized the price tag was going to jump to over a million dollars.

“I don’t think the taxpayers should be paying a million dollars for what they are proposing,” Wilson said. “And if they could explain themselves it would be interesting for them to do so, but do it at a public meeting, because all we are hearing are rumours. We’re not hearing anything concrete from anybody.”

Initiated by the Beach Village BIA, the project is aimed at drawing more traffic to Queen Street from the beach, and creating a better interface between the street and the historic park.

Plans have shifted slightly from the architectural plans unveiled in June 2014. Most notably, surfaces which were to be concrete and glass will now be made of grey and black paving stone, material which made more sense from a long-term maintenance perspective, explained Lisa Rapoport from PLANT architect, the company that designed the project.

“They’re really nice pavers,” she said. “It’s in a pattern that kind of fades, transitions from one colour into the other and moves towards the water – like a shoreline or drawing sand.”

The project’s design involved several stages of community, city and stakeholder consultation. “We listened to what people said and we manipulated the design to respond to the comments,” Rapoport said.

“The park is going to look like the park,” she said, noting that the entire project is focused on the first 50 feet of the park. “This is literally changing the front door. The street is going to look really different … It’s just going to be great to have a really urbane way of hanging out on the street.”

McMahon is looking forward to the changes, and said there is some misinformation in the community about what the finished project will look like.

“We’re not paving over Kew Gardens. We’re expanding the flower beds, we’re adding more trees and more benches,” she said.

Construction on the project is set to begin early spring – a delay of several months following a drawn-out bidding process and concerns that construction in the fall would disrupt Remembrance Day ceremonies, said McMahon.

The city awarded Pine Valley Corporation a $1.1 million contract for the work in late November after a tender process that started in June of last year.

That price tag, while the lowest of the five bids submitted for the work, is $450,000 more than the $650,000 cost budgeted for the project in June 2014. Four other contractors also bid on the project, with the highest bid at close to $1.9 million.

In the summer, when the bid process started, contractors were charging more because of construction for the Pan-Am games, said McMahon, adding that if the city had waited any longer than it did to see if bids would go down, it would have lost the money allocated for the project.

“It wouldn’t have gone down because we would’ve lost the money – it’s in the budget, a line item,” she said. “And I have 25 parks in our ward. They’re all waiting, they’re in a queue. If they haven’t had work done, they would like some work done.”

But Wilson believes the money could be better spent, noting that if the goal is to draw shoppers to Queen Street, signage along the beach directing tourists to Queen Street or more parking spaces would have more of an impact.

McMahon said she knows some people aren’t in favour of the work.

“Some people are reluctant to change, but we had a great working group, we had youth, artists, musicians, seniors, we had all generations at our meetings and at our working groups,” she said.

This story has been updated to reflect that Carole Wilson was speaking as a private citizen, not on behalf of any organization.

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Forgive me, I’m confused. If “the project is aimed at drawing more traffic to Queen Street from the beach,” how is that accomplished when “the entire project is focused on the first 50 feet of the park” — basically invisible from the beach?

I’m actually pretty neutral about the plans, but it seems to me an awful lot of money is being spent to hurry through changes that an awful lot of people appear to not want.

Tom, from the beginning I have been pointing out this same issue – that spending money on the 50 feet along Queen won’t bring people up to Queen.

If you look at the letters tot he BMN in the same issue, you will also see that the Lions will no longer have their Christmas tree sales here because of the changes. Did McMahon not talk to them at all? That shows you how poor the consultation was.

McMahon is the one who is providing “misinformation”.

McMahon also says “We’re not paving over Kew Gardens. We’re expanding the flower beds, we’re adding more trees and more benches”. BUT the entire frontage along Queen will be mostly hard paving. The flowerbeds are being moved and will not be easily visible, and all the trees and other features will hide the library and the park.

People were opposed to this when it was $650,000 – the extra half million could have been used to terminate the lease over the park given to Foulidis (Boardwalk Cafe), or to make changes at the south end of the park (an entrance arch and new paths) that would have encouraged people to walk up the park to Queen. For years before i moved here I never knew exactly where to get into Kew Gardens from the Boardwalk.

What the hell is wrong with you people (excuse my French)?

The City is spending more than a $1 million on your park, and you’re still complaining!? You know, the Beach has reputation, and I’m sure you know what I mean.

Look, this stuff is actually hard to do. It’s a big City with lots of needs. To get dollars allocated to this project is an accomplishment. To create a design, any design, and invite people to comment can be an exercise in futility. No one will ever agree on this path, that bench, or where the garbage can should go. At some point you have to stand back, take a breath and build something. We all see what happens with transit and endlessly changing the plan.

The existing entrance is nice but tired. In the new design I would like to see movable tables and chairs (the classic kind you see in other cities including Detroit, no less) so people can eat, work or play games. Is there wifi? That would be nice. But I’m so appreciative things are moving forward.

Let’s try and enjoy the Beach as if there’s a lake, sand and a boardwalk there.

Michael – the decision to spend money on this specific project was made by the BIA, Councillor and City staff and it was not chosen by the residents. This is $1 million that could have been better spent on other projects that would have more benefit to residents and businesses alike, and it was only supposed to be about $500,000.

People like this part of the park as it is and would have preferred a far more modest intervention.

It has a stated goal of bringing people up from the Boardwalk to shop on Queen and it seems like it will clearly not have this benefit.

Money is tight in this city and money spent foolishly isn’t just wasted but it means that other projects more deserving go unfunded. People complain about the sidewalks, hydro poles and other things that make the sidewalks crowded or the streetscape unattractive, and those things will not be addressed.

The Councillor hasn’t listened to criticism from the beginning. The design has not changed substantially since the original one done by the architects – the responsible thing to do with a project that is twice the budget would have been to scaled it back, and to use the extra $500,000 on the south end of Kew Gardens or on the Glen Stewart/Ivan Forrest parks where there are paths and other needed improvement I would rather see. (Oddly enough, some of the streets along Glen Manor had a massive project of repaving roads while other nearby roads more deserving of repaving were only patched).

Frankly, when…

What Brian Graff said! Micahel Fox, we have to take everything this useless councilllor shoves down our throat or we get some kind of reputation as whiners? That is patently ridiculous. There are far more pressing priorities in our park than this project. Granted, the slate around the cenotaph needs to be replaces, but there are far better uses for the rest of the money than this vanity project for the councillor.

Local businesses through the BIA, the elected Councillor, professional city park staff, notable landscape architects and a public process carry more weight than a few individual complainers who would assume they speak for “residents”. I am a Beach resident, and I think love this. It would be nice to see an actual poll, random sample and all that, because I guarantee the complainers are vastly outnumbered.

I don’t purport to speak for anyone but myself. I must say, however, that you, Michael Fox, are the first person that I have heard speak in support of this project. Perhaps you can point me to the quotes from “professional park staff” that support this project. This is typical of McMahon – she appoints a group of sycophants to a “working group” which rubber stamps her nonsense – same process for the Beach UDG. She mistakes the fact that she was able to round up money for this project, funds that could have addressed more urgent priorities in our parks, as meaning that this is a good idea.

How does this contribute to accessibility? I’d be in favour of that. Kew is hard to access for people w mobility limitations.

What is going on with the construction contracts in this area???. The Leslie Barns landscaping, the Balmy Beach “ramp” and this Kew Gardens fiasco. When will somebody demand at least an explanation of the delays, non-work, and cost overruns on these somewhat minor but costly projects. This reeks of deep issues that no one seems to wants to discuss……..

Further to my previous comment about Kew Gardens I was down in the area on Friday Sept 09. I saw what everybody is talking about. To me it looks like a interlock driveway you would see in a driveway. How did this get so far?

I attended the original meetings and I noticed after attending 4, that the project felt like it was architect driven.
There were complaints about the lack of community notice about this meetings, however and to be fair, the Councillor did make sure the meetings were advertised. I recall maybe 60 people attended one of them. I also recall they wanted to move the Cenotaph, but Bob Murdock raised hell about it and complained continuously that it needed inscription upgrading. The discussions seemed to be centred on failing Queen Street Businesses and creating a space more appealing for shoppers, which I suppose is why the Beach Beach Association put in considerable funds. In my view part of the overhaul should include booting out the guy who owns the Boardwalk Restaurants, or at least has subletted them. He owns the food and beverage rights for the Kew Gardens area as far as I know. If that’s true then how will that help the Queen Street Businesses? Also will these improvements help or hinder the Jazz Festival etc…………….
Again, I found it to be architect driven process and gave up on it…….

I am virtually 100% in favour of these types of improvements to either my neighbourhood or others. But I must say in this case, from what I’ve seen so far, I don’t like it. I have the same concern- that it feels like the park is being paved over. I know it is only 50 ft or whatever, but from Queen St. (where most people see the park) it just feels a lot less soft. It feels a little like the park is gone. But we’ll see when it is 100% finished, what it looks like. But so far, looks like to me that we’re going to spend $1MM to get something that is worse than before. And I haven’t even mentioned that sign that they are going to put up…..can’t remember exactly what it is going to say but it sure sounded silly to me.

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