Multi-million dollar municipal hall renovation on books 

Bought for one dollar 25 years ago, hall needs room to grow

The road to Mayor Ken Melamed’s office hasn’t been easy to negotiate for some.

That’s because the only way to get to the mayor’s office in municipal hall is up a short set of stairs. Until a few months ago, when staff ordered a removable ramp, the office was virtually inaccessible to someone in a wheelchair.

While that not only affects who can work at municipal hall, it also determines who can visit the mayor too, a pressing consideration as Whistler gears up to host the 2010 Paralympic Games.

And that’s just one of the reasons a multi-million-dollar renovation and expansion is on the books, which will not only bring the hall up to code but also provide much-needed space for staff.

"The current municipal hall does not meet the requirements of the municipality for office space and council chambers and it is a deteriorating building," said Gerald Longson, municipal development manager.

The 2006-2010 Five Year Financial Plan provides a budget of more than $5.2 million for the renovations, the bulk of which is to be spent next year. It will be funded entirely from the hotel tax.

Mayor Ken Melamed said this week that the Olympics, and the municipality’s role in the Olympics, such as welcoming dignitaries from around the world, is also a factor in the proposed expansion and renovation.

"I think that’s one of the driving forces behind the proposal to renovate," he said. "It’s certainly a consideration for me."

There was a time when the business at the municipal hall building dealt less in development permits and property taxes and more in serving up steak and fries for dinner.

The building was once the old Keg restaurant, located in Whistler Cay on Crabapple Drive. The municipality bought it for one dollar in 1981 and moved it from the shores of Alta Lake to its present location in Village North.

Over time there have been small renovations to accommodate a burgeoning staff in an increasingly busier resort community.

But the hall hasn’t kept up to the pace. Two years ago the council chambers became office space, leaving a gaping spot for official council business. Council now meets at Millennium Place, which must be set up and dismantled after every meeting.

The impetus to do the work stems in part from a 2004 study that determined there were a number of shortcomings to the village building and that it was short on space.

Among the options to remedy the situation, council of the day considered demolishing the building and starting anew, finding another site to build, or expanding and upgrading the existing building.

Council chose the later.

Staff, with the help of a local architect, is in the middle of a planning exercise to determine what the work could look like and how much it would cost. A report is expected at the second council meeting in August.

In the meantime staff is exploring options to build out towards the parking lot and north of the existing building. They are also looking at renovating the existing hall to create more space inside.

On the list of things to deliver is a new council chambers and space that could convert to an Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) in the event of a major municipal emergency such as a flood or a fire.

As well, the expansion could include a Customer Service Centre where residents and guests could go for information and be directed accordingly.

"The place is crowded," said Longson, "there isn’t enough room for staff. The sooner it gets done, the better."

Council must still approve any plans and budget for the building overhaul.

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