By Ryan McGreal
Published February 03, 2009
The city's public works committee voted 5-3 yesterday to support the renovation committee's decision and fund a $2 million enclosed forecourt as part of the City Hall renovation project.
The forecourt, a glorified lobby, is supposed to give the building a "wow factor", a phrase that sets my teeth a little more on edge every time I stumble across it.
Do you know what would give the building a "wow factor"? A façade not made of precast concrete and aluminum trim.
The renovation committee and council have steadily flouted the building's architectural heritage, voting to give themselves permission to violate the city's own municipal heritage designation - to the extent that E.R.A. Architects, the city's heritage consultant, actually resigned in disgust.
Now the same councillors who couldn't see fit to spend a lousy $3 million on an architecturally appropriate façade are jazzed up about spending $2 million on a glass enclosure for the front, claiming that it will somehow become a public meeting space.
Councillor Lloyd Ferguson, who steamrolled the concrete cladding through council and refused to explore creative options for funding a limestone alternative, now says he believes the glass foyer will qualify for federal infrastructure money.
The sheer fail is just breathtaking. While Mayor Fred, who at least supported the limestone option, warns council not to be "a penny wise and a pound foolish", the City Hall renovation seems to be getting all its priorities just about exactly wrong.
Council votes not to give the City Hall an energy-efficient green roof, which would pay for itself in reduced heating and cooling costs over the lifecycle of the renovated building. Meanwhile, the emergency and community services committee is busy asking council to mandate green roofs on new buildings and offer incentives to retrofit existing buildings.
Then Council votes to exempt itself from municipal heritage legislation, which Councillor Ferguson approvingly notes will reduce the city's moral ability to hold private property owners accountable to it.
Then Council votes not to compare the cost of keeping city offices at Hamilton City Centre - informed decision-making be damned - as the renovation costs continue to creep up and the global economy slides into recession.
Why the sudden enthusiasm for a $2 million glass foyer? Are they overcompensating for the steady drumbeat of public and professional criticism over their previous choices? Are they simply incapable of distinguishing between substance and empty gesture?
In context, the magnitude of our city's abject failure of leadership from Council on what ought to have been a series of no-brainers is difficult to fathom.