Stratford councilors have voted to include an action plan in the city’s draft 2023 budget for the development of the planned Grand Trunk Community Hub.
During council’s second 2023 budget meeting Tuesday, Stratford’s chief administrator, CAO Joan Thomson presented a report outlining the proposed action plan, which includes steps city staff hopes to take with its partners – the University of Waterloo, YMCA of Three Rivers, peopleCare and others – toward the development of the property, known locally as the Cooper site.
“Because we’ve eliminated some of those uncertainties with the project, we’re looking forward to advancing to the next stages. … The university and the (YMCA) have indicated to the city they’re interested in advancing their next projects. For the university, it is housing. For the (YMCA), they’ve identified the need for a new facility to serve the community. We’re also looking for permanent space for the (Stratford Lakeside) Active Adults Association. We have a commitment with them and we would like to advance on that.”
Thomson also noted that peopleCare, a long-term care home operator that previously ran a home in Stratford, had expressed interest in building a new 160-bed home on either the Cooper site property or somewhere along Vivian Line 37.
Given the “challenges” posted by the property’s environmental condition and the needed permitting, Thomson said city staff had identified seven stages for this action plan – a long-term care block, student housing for the university, a shared YMCA-community hub building, space for the active adults association, roadway and service designs at the site, updated site layout drawings for the developable parcels, community fundraising and, finally, a record of site condition for the remaining section of the property’s former railway repair shop.
Thomson’s report included estimated timelines for each of the action plan’s seven stages in 2023, 2024 and ensuing years if the plan is approved as part of the city’s 2023 budget.
For the development of the YMCA-community hub building, city staff would begin meeting with an architect hired by the YMCA next month while the architectural design and costing would begin in the fall or winter of this year. Finalized project details and a budget would be complete by June 2024 and, if endorsed by council and the YMCA board of directors, construction could begin in 2025.
In the meantime, city staff would also be working with the University of Waterloo on the development of a new student-housing building. Since staff are still clarifying the university’s needs and its timing for this project, Thomson estimated the city could expect to begin a potential environmental field investigation of that portion of the property by June of this year. That would be followed a strategy for environmental permitting over the summer, consultations with Environment Ministry in September, and construction approvals by the end of this year. Remedial measures needed to address any potential environmental issues would be slotted for next year.
An estimated construction date for the housing has not yet been determined.
While no specific plans for the development of a long-term care home are yet available, Thomson included the environmental work and ministry approval needed for such a project in the proposed action plan, much of which would be completed this year with a finalized agreement with peopleCare and any environmental remediation work slated for next year.
While the total cost of the items included in the action plan are estimated at around $2.5 million, Thomson said it would be funded entirely through the city’s Grand Trunk Community Hub reserve fund and would have no impact on the city’s 2023 tax levy. Stratford director of corporate services Karmen Krueger did note, however, this reserve fund would be largely depleted should the city and its partners move ahead with the plan.
Councilors also voted Tuesday to approve the formation of an ad-hoc Grand Trunk renewal committee to provide support for the rejuvenation of the old Grand Trunk Railway repair shop building.
According to the approved terms of reference, the committee will include the mayor or a delegate of the mayor, a citizen at large, a person with experience in economic development, a person with accounting experience, a member of the Stratford Lakeside Active Adults Association, a young person between the ages of 13 and 25, a person with experience in education, a person with experience in community or professional theatre, one building design professional, and a legal professional, as well as several non-voting members of Stratford city staff , including the CAO, the director of community services, a corporate services lead and a recording secretary.
The committee would be expected to meet quarterly – or at the discretion of the chair – after the city receives the results of a feasibility study from consulting firm KCI Philanthropy this spring on community fundraising for the Grand Trunk Community Hub project commissioned by council last year.
City staff were given the green light Tuesday to begin advertising for the recruitment of members for committee, and applications from interested citizens will be reviewed by staff and council at a future meeting.
This stage of the hub’s development comes after a number of recent project milestones, Thompson said at the meeting, including the end of land compensation hearings with Lawrence Ryan, the property’s former owner; Environment Ministry-approval to redevelop the former repair shop into a community hub, the nearly complete removal of the building’s asbestos-containing roof deck, and the restoration and bracing of its original steel roof trusses.