Revitalization

Open Letter to Council: Don't Choose Style Over Substance

By Ryan McGreal
Published February 04, 2009

Dear Mayor Eisenberger and City Councillors,

Why are we seriously entertaining the idea of spending $2 million on a glass-enclosed lobby for City Hall?

Just two months ago, there was no money to clad the building in limestone, an upgrade that would cost $3 million and would be much more consistent with the building's architectural heritage designation.

A few months before that, there was no money for a green roof, an investment that would pay for itself over the building's life cycle in lower energy bills while demonstrating leadership in sustainable design - a goal the Emergency and Community Services Committee thought should apply to all new and retrofitted buildings in the city.

Compared to these rejected projects, the glass lobby seems pretty flimsy. Please, don't choose the empty "wow" of style over substance.

If Hamilton may be entitled to some infrastructure stimulus funding for the City Hall renovation, let's make sure we spend the money on a project that will bring real, long-term value to the building and to the city.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

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By UrbanRenaissance (registered) | Posted February 04, 2009 at 12:49:59

You said it Ryan. I can't wait to see what the response is from the city (if any)

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By Jonathan (registered) | Posted February 04, 2009 at 13:55:50

I bet Jackson Square had 'wow factor' when it was first proposed. How many people are impressed with it now?

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted February 05, 2009 at 10:09:23

I wish the councillors would reply, and that their replies would actually respond to what you're saying, rather than suggesting hairbrained schemes to sell city hall.

What will it take to get some smart people in city hall? Doubling their salaries?

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted February 05, 2009 at 10:48:00

Robert D, perhaps switching to a pay for performance model would help. If politicians could earn large bonuses based on increased property values/median wages, I'm sure we would get much better results than we do today.

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By Chris (registered) | Posted February 06, 2009 at 14:20:49

I am all for the glass enclosed lobby. I think we need a feature like this to really present our city council in their natural habitat. We could feature a trough for council dining it would be self serving of course. Just think of the fun in watching them feather their nests and observing grooming activities like scratching each others backs. We really must reserve a place of honour for the Ethics Commissioner fenced of from the creatures who have hobbled the poor beast. Lastly if this is built I hope to bid on the peanut concession.

PS This balloon will not fly far, I do not know anyone of any stripe who thinks this is anything but ego driven garbage.

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By Chris (registered) | Posted February 06, 2009 at 16:11:59

I am all for the glass enclosed lobby. I think we need a feature like this to really present our city council in their natural habitat. We could feature a trough for council dining it would be self serving of course. Just think of the fun in watching them feather their nests and observing grooming activities like scratching each others backs. We really must reserve a place of honour for the Ethics Commissioner fenced of from the creatures who have hobbled the poor beast. Lastly if this is built I hope to bid on the peanut concession.

PS This balloon will not fly far, I do not know anyone of any stripe who thinks this is anything but ego driven garbage.

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By Hopeful (registered) | Posted February 06, 2009 at 22:44:50

The only "wow" here is that councilours feel they are competent to suggest, much less approve, a "wow" factor. Having maligned and alienated the professionals and concerned citizens originally interested in the project having "wow", they now reach for this to justify their "efforts". Your comments are dead on Ryan. The primary "wow" here is "wow, is this the best that we can do?" Pathetic. It's time to start lobbying and fundraising for new candidates who can upset this rotten apple cart as soon as possible.

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By Grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted February 07, 2009 at 18:49:38

Ryan: If the Emergency and Social Services Committee recommended green roofs as the way forward who or what stands in the way? Is the hierachry standing in the way of the voices that imply grassroots "leadership"?

My recommendation is to let the people vote, never mind the bureaucracy telling us what we need.

Why not clean up the brownfields, invest in infrastructure, like the sewer systems, roads, transportation which would allow for new green technology to be interested in our area, since we supposed to be de-industrializing. But the people need jobs that pay a living wage or more, not service sector, box store jobs that pay minimum wage that does nothing for the local economy.

It makes sense that the city should of been maintaining the building, can the people ask for the records pertaining the the maintenance records? Are the people privy to this information? Can we have an audit or analysis done on these expense reports?

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By ANONYMOUS (anonymous) | Posted February 08, 2009 at 10:42:22

If we are in such tough economic times why is CIty Hall spencing MY MONEY on something I do not give two shits about. And besides how long do they think the "wow factor" is actually going to be "wow"

I feel that this is such a waste of my tax money.

Rather I would like to see the City of Hamilton repave some of the horrendous roads that we have. You want money, fix the roads, this in turn will increase the tourism therefore bringing in more money for Hamilton.

I think maybe City Hall needs to be run by a woman......they obviously can seem to budget better.....

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By BIG WOW (anonymous) | Posted February 08, 2009 at 12:09:28

The wow comes from the audacity of anyone thinking they've made an impression by glassing in the front porch.

May I humbly suggest a real wow, for city hall and all civic properties, and beyond? One that could build a local industry, develop a newer green technology and save energy (money) in the long run? One where individual citizens might easily see the benefits for the city and themselves? And one where some local businesses (and here I admit a conflict of interest- I have relatives in this business so you should check the facts for yourself) have developed some expertise generally ignored by civic leaders.

My suggestion is to dig up the forecourt and parking areas surrounding city hall to lay piping for geothermal heating and cooling. Repave and re-sod these areas of course, and do the rooftop and other energy-saving upgrades too, but though up front costs for these other upgrades are lower, none will be as cheap or efficient in the long run as going geothermal.

The technology is well developed and proven. Below the frost line the earth maintains a constant temperature above freezing and below surface temperatures. It takes much less energy to turn a motor to pump heat back and forth than to heat an element or burn carbon-based fuels. The major expenses come from drilling and trenching but underground pipes last for decades, while even high-efficiency furnaces last little more than one decade. Break-even on the initial investment takes a while but once met the savings endure.

It is cheaper to lay horizontal trenches than to drill deep, so buildings surrounded by open spaces, such as schools and other public buildings, are prime candidates for this upgrade. But there's more. Local government owns the parks and other open spaces where geothermal piping could be installed, the hot and cool air sold to surrounding homes and businesses through a public utility like Horizon. Bodies of water, from the lake and bay and even small lakes maintained by local conservation authorities are the cheapest places to put geothermal pipes. Less digging required. We should at least be studying the environmental impact on plant and wildlife species at these locations.

Public utilities are also in a position to extend credit for properties remote from municipal locations where expensive vertical drilling is required, as I understand some U.S. utilities are presently doing. Geothermal heating and cooling is generally so efficient that the monthly payments for of operation AND long-term financing at rates profitable for the lender can still be cheaper for the borrower than current alternatives.

There it is. It's local infrastructure, and should be eligible for funding from senior levels of government to create local jobs lasting well beyond the immediate recession. It saves money for communities and property owners AND cheap heating and cooling is an attraction for businesses to locate in the area. Geothermal is green, putting less carbon into the air even if the electricity required to run it were derived from coal-fuelled generating plants, which does not HAVE to be the case. Also, some local companies have developed expertise by successfully installing systems around (mostly outside) the city for a number of years. Finally, there's a role for local government and utilities to quickly put shovels in the ground, and for colleges to train more installers.

Quick action on a project like this might be worthy of a wow or two.

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