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City agrees to $32 million reno for courthouse

 By Kevin Werner, News Staff

Hamilton politicians are resigned to their inevitable fate the city will have to spend over $32 million to renovate the former Wentworth County Courthouse to continuing offering its provincial offenses services to the community.

Councillors agreed at their general issues committee meeting Jan. 22 to kick out McMaster University and renovate the building to meet the province’s Aug. 31, 2017 deadline. The city’s lease to operate the POA services in the John Sopinka Courthouse across the street ends in three years and the province needs the extra courtroom space. The province refused to allow the city to extend the lease past 2017.

“This is the cheapest route to go,” said Ancaster councillor Lloyd Ferguson. “We don’t have a choice. Still, it’s a lot of money.”

The city will borrow $27 million, while Hamilton Community Energy will contribute $4.9 million to the cost of the renovation. It will mean the city’s tax-supported debt level will rise from $371 million to $398 million.

But as city staff outlined, renovating 50 Main Street East was the most cost effective option they studied, while providing a good location for people to use the facility. It will also allow the city to meet the tight three-year deadline.

Other alternatives included building a new facility at a cost of $39 million, adopt a lease back agreement with a private business with a price tag of $47.5 million, or join with the Hamilton Police Services to locate the POA service in the police’s new forensic building.

By rehabilitating the 1958 building, the city will add an additional 1.5 courtrooms to the 2.5 the city has in the Sopinka Courthouse now, and boost the city’s revenue potential as well. And the city will rent out 50,000 square feet it will not use to other agencies generating needed revenue.

The city will use 112,000 square feet, and relocate its legal staff and risk management people into the facility.

The city also had to adhere to specific provincial guidelines when creating a POA facility, including allowing for underground parking, providing secured holding cells and having no windows.

The municipality took over the POA services from the province in February 2000, and currently uses two-and-a-half courtrooms, while employing 22 full-time staff. An additional five full-time employees will be added to the service by 2017.

There are about 40 agencies that issue tickets and need to be processed through the POA services.

The Ontario Municipal Board, which conducts hearings at 50 Main Street, would continue operating at the venue, but McMaster’s continuing education programs would have to be finished at the building by 2015.

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