Greater Napanee wrestles with tradition versus modernization of Town Hall

A meeting of the Greater Napanee Town Council saw a polite debate about the continued viability of its circa 1856 Town Hall versus building a new administration centre on a different site — with the end goal of the coming together of most Town service departments. 

Council received for information the Greater Napanee Municipal Administration Centre Project Staff Report, which was prepared by Brandt Zatterberg, the town’s Deputy Chief Administrative Officer and General Manager.

Napanee Town Hall. Photo by Bay of Quinte Tourism.

Currently, the administration of the Town is housed in six separate buildings spread over 21,175 square feet (including 2,940 sq ft of leased space at 41 Dundas Street West). Additionally, the municipality has 45,309 sq ft in ancillary buildings. There are 52 employees with permanent workplaces, both office and open-air style workspaces.

Zatterberg’s report suggests three possible scenarios to reconfigure the town administrative offices in order to keep more staff working closely together under one roof, or at least within a short walk to a separate department. One of the scenarios would see the current Town Hall remain the epicentre of a retrofit and addition in an attempt to improve its serviceability.

Napanee Town Hall was designated a national historic site of Canada in 1984. Erected in 1856, Napanee Town Hall is an early example of a combination town hall and market, an arrangement popular in Ontario before 1870. Designed by Kingston architect Edward Horsey with its simple yet stately design and porticoed entry added in the twentieth century, the Town Hall is a rare extant example of a town hall in the Greek Revival style.

Unfortunately, the interior of the Town Hall was stripped of its architectural value when it was extensively renovated in 1975. While it met minimum standards at the time, the building is currently marred with barriers to accessibility. Its 8,028 square feet does not accommodate a centralized customer service department, nor an accessible Council chamber. 

Choosing this option would preserve the historic function of the Town Hall and market square as the focal point of the downtown core area, with the construction of a new building adjacent to the Town Hall. In this scenario, Parks and Recreation staff will remain at 16 McPherson, the Strathcona Paper Center (SPC). Parking would not be any more accessible than it is now and, in fact, parking pressure would increase due to the needs of 30 plus extra employees parking in the area.

A second scenario sees the municipal offices moving to the SPC, with the advantages of the location being the existing 11,807 square foot floor area that can be reconfigured as administrative space, the existing parking lot, and the proximity to future growth, including municipal and commercial expansions that are planned. There would also be high visibility from Highway 401, and Parks and Recreation staff could operate from the same service counter as other administration functions.

The current banquet hall could be repurposed to serve as a multipurpose space available for increased community programming and special events, while minimizing the need for a stand-alone Council chamber that is occupied for only 75 hours annually. A perceived disadvantage of this site would be the 2.5 km move from the traditional downtown core to the newer northern expansion of the Town.

A final scenario would see the use of property north of the CN rail line at the end of Snow Road, behind the current Fire Hall. The new build in this location is close to other government and service agencies: Fire services, OPP detachment, Ambulance services, Prince Edward Lennox & Addington Social Services, Family & Children Services, KFL&A Health Unit, Service Ontario, and Service Canada. However, the site is not highly visible to visitors or townspeople.

One interesting consideration if the current Town Hall space is no longer used for its original and current function, is the potential to repurpose the 8,028 square foot building as a community programming hub for youth, seniors, arts and culture, shared community agency office space, indoor vendor markets, and more.

Councillor Dave Pinnell had much to say about the various proposals, reiterating multiple times that he hoped his comments “would be taken respectfully.”

For one thing, he said, “I think that the council chambers should stay where it is at top of the town hall. And if there are any accessibility issues, then we could certainly address those…  the space is big enough and, you know, we can broadcast what we’re doing now and still have people come in and meet with us, especially people that want to talk directly to Council to be able to show their emotions and look straight into our eyes and talk to us… I think I kind of saw it in the report where we could have a hybrid area where we can just offset for the 75 hours or so the Council’s together like we have with the Selby right now — but I think going forward, it would be best to have [a chamber] and, again, going along with history.”

Councillor Terry Richardson and Mayor Marg Isbester both pointed out that the report was very preliminary and Council’s decision on it would allow staff to begin to explore the various options. However, Pinnell expressed hesitation with the report itself, saying, “there’s an awful lot of detail in that report to just simply say that we’re starting somewhere. So, that’s where I have some concerns with this, is that there are actually numbers, dollar figures attached to it, although they’re probably a great estimate. But I think there’s a little bit more to this report, other than just stating that we are looking at going forward on this.”

Max Kaiser, Deputy Mayor, pointed out, “You can’t even spitball and blue sky with those numbers to know if you’re even in the game or not… is it even realistic to strive for everybody under one roof ? … We should start talking about it because we’re not talking about it. We’re sitting idle, and we’re not incrementally moving forward. And we haven’t moved in a long time. It’s been 20 years since amalgamation and we’re still dealing with this one Hall. And we’ve got those other halls over there, and those other halls over there. Let’s get this back together.”

Chief Administrative Officer (CAO), John Pinsent, summed up the various positions, “What I’ve heard so far is we’re not going to go build a palace somewhere as a new build, right? And in as much as I personally don’t think you need a Council Chamber in its current construct, that could be reimagined as something else; we can have that discussion. I think there needs to be a nod to history and a nod to using something that we already own. I think by doing that, you’ve probably already eliminated one of the options that are in Brandt’s report. And I think the other thing we want to get out of this is… if there is somebody else that we need to consult, we would like to know that, or if there’s another option that we haven’t presented, that you think is viable, or appropriate, then we [Town Staff] would like to see that, as well.”

After more polite debate, it was decided that Council receive for information the Report; “and further that Council direct staff to proceed with the development of a centralized, consolidated municipal service delivery model, involving the obtaining of a new administration building, minimizing municipal service access points, maximizing administrative and operational efficiencies, and ensuring long-term cost-effectiveness. The centralized service model selected will follow thorough evaluation and community consultation, which will determine the best option for a growing, thriving Greater Napanee.”

Only Pinnell objected.

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