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.