With three aging buildings housing staff in Highlands East, CAO Shannon Hunter and deputy CAO and treasurer Brittany McCaw presented a business case for a single office, by either renovating an existing space or building a new one.

Hunter and McCaw made their pitch during a Highlands East budget meeting Jan. 31.

“The municipality of Highlands East is considering building a municipal office and council chambers due to inefficiencies, cost of maintenance, and managers working out of three buildings,” McCaw said.

She added benefits would be saving money on utilities, energy efficiencies, longevity for future replacement, reducing maintenance costs and assets to cut back on future contributions to reserves for replacement of multiple buildings. The two added that having all senior staff under one roof would be beneficial to properly manage and supervise, cross train and share resources. Another crunch, she said, is the inability to meet future growth, including human resource requirements.

The public would benefit as well, having all services in one place and a proper council chamber. Council now meets on stage at the Lloyd Watson Centre.

As for excess buildings, McCaw said council could consider making them available for housing, “which would provide some relief to the current housing shortage in Highlands East and Haliburton County.”

The municipality has been putting funds away for seven years, now totalling $938,469, not including previous years’ surpluses, which could also be used towards a new build. An estimated price from seven years ago was $1.5 million, it’s expected to cost much more in today’s market.

McCaw said they could possibly reduce the office footprint, since, through COVID19, they realized office space could be maximized by plans for shared spaces, work from home, compressed work weeks and scheduling alternate shifts.

The township has the Lloyd Watson Centre at 2249 Loop Rd., built in 1975. It’s home to the municipal office, memorial centre and food hub. Average annual maintenance is projected to be about $35,000 to $107,000. It’s recommended a new roof top furnace, windows, doors, roof, and interior water leak repairs be considered. It costs $8,622 a year for heat, hydro and insurance.

There’s another building at 2778 Monck Rd., for the environment and bylaw departments and the library. Also built in 1975, maintenance costs are projected at $8,604 to $72,300-a-year. Exterior doors, interior painted drywall and baseboard, and upgraded electrical panel are needed. Approximate hydro, building and insurance is $9,175.

The third building is at 1032 Gooderham St. Built in 1987, it’s home to the building department and a library. Maintenance there is put at $9,261 to $60,000 annually. It’s recommended interior and exterior work be done to fix water and moisture issues, costing about $100,000. Utility and insurance are $6,959.

“Due to the age of these buildings, major maintenance will be required in the upcoming years,” McCaw and Hunter said.

Deputy mayor Cec Ryall said, “how you accomplish what you do in this space you have is beyond my understanding. You’ve got people standing on top of other people or sitting on top of them … the long and the short of it is there is absolutely no argument we need space.

“The question is ‘how do we determine how much space we need and are we getting it in the right place at the right time’?”

He was not in favour of budgeting $100,000 for an architect. A former industrial engineer, he said they first need an expert to assess their needs now as well as look at future growth. He wondered if they could work with Trent University or Fleming College on that for a fraction of what an architect would charge. He was seeking a more detailed report leading to a shovel-ready plan in the event of federal or provincial grants becoming available.

But Hunter said they were only at the stage of seeking council approval to proceed with the project. She said it was too early to hammer out details.

The discussion, as well as one about what to do about two aging public works garages, will continue.