Brockville Ontario - It's another move forward for the Brockville Railway Tunnel project.
City council approved at its meeting on Tuesday night a recommendation to retain the services of Mark Thompson Brandt Architect (MTBA) & Associates of Ottawa to develop concepts for the city-owned land northeast of William and Brock streets at the north end of the tunnel.
The fee is $84,764.85 plus HST.
The urban planner report is to include at least three conceptual plans for the property, new facilities that are envisioned but have yet to receive final approval from the city include a multi-purpose building that could house a range of functions, in addition to railway and heritage-themed structures, and a parking lot for cars and tour buses.
Those features are being considered as part of phase two of the tunnel project.
The council vote followed a presentation by committee member Jack Kenny, who provided an update on the current phase one.
Kenny, who chairs the marketing subcommittee, reported that construction associated with refurbishing Canada's first railway tunnel is on track.
The masonry work is expected to end by late February, and the installation of electrical infrastructure would begin in early March.
The estimated cost of phase one is just under $4 million.
The committee has already raised more than $3.5 million for the project in just over two years, interim financing through Infrastructure Ontario has been secured.
"We haven't over committed," Kenny remarked.
The tunnel reopening is slated for the "Canada 150 Rails to Trails" Festival, 10-13 Aug 2017.
As for phase two and the future phase beyond that, Kenny emphasized that the features that have been suggested for the north and south ends of the tunnel are all conceptual.
He did note the study that estimated the refurbished and open tunnel would attract 30,000 visitors each year.
The urban planner report will include a public consultation phase and is intended to, among other things, produce designs and accurate cost estimates that will make the committee's fund raising efforts easier, according to Kenny.
"We really need to keep that momentum going," he said of the fund raising success to date.
The report might be completed before the opening in August.
Brockville council members expressed their general support for the project and the volunteer committee led by Councillor Dave LeSueur.
However, the urban planner report motion generated considerable discussion.
Councillor Jason Baker was one of the councillors who offered a cautionary note about the additional features being considered as part of phase two of the tunnel project.
Although he voted in favour of the report being done, Baker referred to the possibility that the public consultation could result in "unrealistic expectations" about adding features to the project.
In noting that it will be the city that has to pay for the operating costs moving forward, the councillor doesn't want tunnel backers to be upset if he doesn't support everything the public wants to build.
Mayor David Henderson echoed that sentiment.
The tunnel committee should not take it as "a moral defeat" if council does not end up supporting some elements of the projects after a full analysis of costs is conducted.
Councillor Mike Kalivas also supported the motion, but noted he was doing so "with great caution."
He commented that everything is going great now, but Kalivas said that council and citizens will need to be comfortable with future plans for the areas just outside the north and south ends of the tunnel.
"Right now, I'm not comfortable with what I'm seeing," he stated.
In expressing her appreciation for the committee's business like approach to the project and noting the need for a plan to deal with future work involving the tunnel, Councillor Jane Fullarton said that she is comfortable with the process and the work that is being done.
"Your request is so reasonable," she told Kenny, adding that she believes in the group's expertise and the marketing plan that has already been done.
Fullarton added that she hopes the volunteers have the stamina to keep going.
In noting that it's money raised by the tunnel committee, Councillor Jeff Earle said he doesn't have a right to criticize how it is used.
However, he did express a worry about the cost of maintaining the refurbished attraction and any features associated with it and the fact that the numbers had yet to be provided by city staff.
Kenny had noted earlier in the meeting that the tunnel doors would operate on a seasonal basis, and the doors would be closed for the night during the operating season.
Four companies submitted proposals in response to the urban planner design concepts RFP issued in September.
MTBA Associates was not the low bidder, but the firm received the highest ranking.
The bids ranged from $45,000 to $104,585.
City policy requires Brockville council approval to retain a consultant following written proposals for assignments that exceed $30,000.
A railway tunnel park information centre is located at 66 King Street West.
Visitors are welcome to check out the plans and concepts as well as purchase shares in the Brockville & Ottawa Railway in support of the tunnel project.
"Mind you, they're not worth anything," Kenny quipped about the shares.