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Joseph Brant Museum expansion $471k over budget; annual operating deficit projected at $208k

To Committee of the Whole Sept. 25

Tenders are in for construction of the Joseph Brant Museum expansion, and the lowest bid, $8.9 million from Aquicon Construction Co. Ltd., is $471,850 over budget. The total project cost was estimated at $10.4 million in November 2016, revised up to $10.965 million in September 2017, and revised upward again last week to $11.437 million after construction tenders came in.

The city’s share of these costs has risen from $2.1 million to $3.978 million, not including additional operating and capital renewal costs.

Funding sources for the Capital project are:

  • Federal Cultural Spaces Grant: $ 4.479 million
  • Provincial Trillium Grant: $ 500,000
  • Joseph Brant Museum Foundation: $ 2.479 million
  • City of Burlington: $ 3.978 million (up from $2.1 million)
    TOTAL: $11.437 million

The city is waiting on news of a grant request for an additional $1 million in provincial funding, which would help defray the city’s portion of costs.

The annual operating shortfall for the museum is projected to be $208,000, due mostly to hiring three additional staff. The shortfall is spread over both Joseph Brant Museum and Ireland House, as salaries are split between the two venues.

Staff are proposing to address the operating shortfall through the 2018 budget with a combination of one-time funding of $87,000 spread over two years, and an increase to the base budget grant of $150,000, followed by 2% annual increases thereafter. It is expected that revenue from up to two travelling exhibits each year, and potential sponsorship or other fundraising, will help to defray some of the operating shortfall.

The capital renewal costs are estimated to be an additional $190,000 per year, currently unfunded. One funding option, used at other city facilities, is to add a capital surcharge to admission prices.

The financial details and recommendations to award the tender and increase the city’s share of the project are included in a staff report and related Appendices on the agenda for the Committee of the Whole Sept. 25.

My Take:

This project was pitched to the community with a cap on the city taxpayer contribution, which has now grown exponentially in both capital and operating. Residents deserve more accurate forecasting when asked to support new projects – and an opportunity to review the viability and need of the project when costs escalate. The project began in  2001 when KNY Architects were commissioned to provide a feasibility study. There’s been no substantial review or modification to the scope of the project as costs have increased.

Written by Marianne Meed Ward

I was inspired to seek public office because I believe, like so many of you, “I can do something about that” on the issues we face. As councilor, my role is to take a stand on what’s best for residents and go to bat for it. Pushback is inevitable from those who don’t have the community’s interests at heart. I will stand with you and for you, to achieve the best interests of our city, without caving to unacceptable compromise in the name of consensus.


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  1. Thank you Marianne and Jack for being the only councillors who respected the taxpayers enough to vote this massive change down.

  2. This topic has evolved in the merit of having a museum or not or how it should be expanded or not rather than the total lack of process and disregard of our tax dollars. Is there not a process in the contract agreement that stipulates the estimated cost and a percentage allowance should it go over for any unforeseen cause? Who is responsible?

    • A reasonable post I agree however tendering complex construction projects often have contingencies. I don’t know what the solution is.

  3. Certainly one cannot think that the Joseph Brant Museum is in the same league as the ROM. There will not be school buses lined up to see the exhibits in the Joseph Brant Museum.

  4. I was tacitly in agreement with the expansion plan of the JB Museum. A larger museum allows more interesting exhibits. If you observe the ROM there are school buses lined up everyday of the week. Here in Burlington there’s nothing that a school would bring their classes to. This said, everything has a limit!!!

  5. We the people can bring change & bring the focus back to real issues in a growing community.

    Regardless, of where everyone lives in our City. PM, if anyone is interested in becoming an advocate for our City.

    Strength in numbers brings changes. We MUST work together for all in our community.

    The cost of the Pier, is another example of out tax dollars being abused.

    • It is not only the cost of the pier, it is the fact that it has been built outside of the legislation with barriers to the view for those in wheelchairs on 100% of the pier. Our numerous efforts to address this with Council have been ignored and claims made by Council members that the issue has been resolved – not so, they simply wish the issue to go away along with the accessible beach ramp design that makes it inaccesible to those with mobility disabilities the. Majority of the year. Anne and Dave Marsden

  6. Although it important to preserve heritage etc, the amount being spent on this venture really needs to be reassessed. Agree with comment above that the museum is empty. Let’s put this money towards much needed support in other areas. Ie healthcare.

  7. Burlington needs a homeless shelter for are youth and adults.
    We need increased affordable housing.
    This JB museum was not a priority.

  8. It would have come close to budget had it been their money but it’s the cities and it isn’t given much thought. Not new as well, how much over budget was the Pit, I think that is what it’s called, the extension out to Lake Ontario. I can’t understand the process; you get a written quotes, you accept the best quote, the contractor has to complete it for that amount or less.
    Most of us would put up a very good fight If our contractor charged excessively over the quoted price for a deck or a paved driveway. Typical government

  9. The cost of this project is absolutely ridiculous. The proposed plan and rendering has a flower kiosk added at the front of the museum at the corner of Maple and Lakeshore amongst other things completely uneccessary. No one will be stopping at Maple and Lakeshore to jump out and buy flowers. We do not need the Fluff. Contractors bidding on this project know its a government contract, and charge through the nose, hoping that city council and or taxpayers won’t question the cost. City councilors in Burlington and in every other city should be spending taxpayers dollars like they would at home and
    Contract for a fare and equitable price for the job.
    And not for an over inflated price because it’s a government contract. I agree that the musem alone, needs renos, but nothing else should be added to the landscape.
    And the cost to do so should be as it would be in the private sector.

  10. Marianne today at Current Affairs at the Burlington Seniors Centre it was said that at a meeting held on Monday, that Council agreed to provide the additional money requested for the Joseph Brant Museum. That in fact the vote was unanimous to give these funds. Is this correct?

    • No. Vote was 5-2, myself and Jack Dennison not in favour. Article here: https://www.insidehalton.com/news-story/7578158-new-11-4m-price-tag-for-burlington-museum-project-gets-greenlight-from-council/

    • This is insane, how many handi-vans could the city run for this much money ? No one goes to this museum, it’s going to be empty.

    • Totally agree, but how much cache is there in providing a good public transit system. Legacy projects like an addition to a museum that no one goes to seems to get the money. I hope the residents of Burlington remember these things when the next election comes around. I know who I won’t be voting for.

  11. In all my years of living inBurlington, I have never visited the museum. Nor do I know anyone who has. For that kind of money tear it down and make a parking lot at least it will make money.

    • I prefer to live in a city with some cultural depth and appreciation for where it came from. If you are not experiencing all that Burlington has to offer, then you are missing out!

  12. I have lived in this city since 1957 and have never visited the museum ( not my cup of tea). Now how many of the new residents of Burlington even know it exists even council didnt know what was going on with these renovations.. And I don’t think that it is an attraction that would bring a lot of tourists to our city just to see it.

  13. I can barely respond to this stuff anymore, and I AM a proponent of museums, more bike lanes, progress for the downtown. I have never thought I would leave this city, but the way things are going has really made me think about it. Where was the fourth option for the hotel site: none of the above. It was choose 1 of 3 really crappy options.

  14. I believe in the museum, but these numbers are way out of whack. ~ How can the budget & construction costs be “over budget” when a spade hasn’t turned the turf yet?! ~ Strongly advise a re-evaluation of the proposed architectural plans, with a re-assessment of the working budget (that includes personnel salaries!) ~ What about a phased-in approach? Break it down into manageable chunks spread over 10-15 years. It’s a long term goal, so make it a long term plan.

  15. Every construction project in Burlington goes over budget and causes a scandal. Maybe you should just hire smaller companies with good reviews and avoid the bigger ones?

  16. Please stop. Cancel this project. A waste of our taxpayers money. It’s also prime downtown real estate. Let’s make this an income generating project. Put in something that will net the city a positive cash flow. As one resident commented, this house is a replica. There’s no interest. Who can get away with investing $$s into an anticipated losing investment..

    Please stop. Cancel this.

    • You’re right Andy. I have lived here all my life (57 years) there was a time when projects did not overrun. When CEOs of public institutions did not make ridiculous amounts of money and I was one very proud Burlingtonian. Then the condos started, the pier, the school closings (our school council fought the Superintendant twice on this one with presentation that took hours to put together (for Ryerson – now almost full) and then one of the worst was the hospital. Used our taxes when the funds were supposed to come from the public sector coffers. If it were not for the beautiful waterfront and the people I would probably move (and not to one of those unsightly condos), Okay since I am on the bandwagon I wish they would stop naming hospitals and public institutions after people even if they do give a lot of money, honour them in some other way. McMaster learned that the hard way when they named an entire building after someone who ended up havng criminal charges against him and they tried (to no avail) to remove the name off the building. There has to be a better way, a fairer way to run a city. Other than Marianne of course, I adore her and think she is trying her best.

    • Couldn’t agree more. Shameful. The closing of two Schools in Burlington has destroyed the city but no one seems to care

  17. If you have lived long enough in this town you might recall that this”Replica”, of Joseph Brants home has been moved already twice in the last forty years. Once for the adjustment of Northshore/Maple and the other time was for accommodation of the Emergency Wing of the Hospital, One of the many Whitewashes this facility has undergone in the same time period.

    Whose head will or should roll if the numbers don’t come to fruition? I for one have had enough of the Build it and they will come story. Who are “They?” , exactly and do we need or want them to come?
    The facility was shuttered for nearly 6 months and all salaries paid to executive board members no doubt, but not a soul including Council knew that this was the case. If we make it gaudy enough to not even look like the disappointment of a museum it has been described as earlier, people will flock to it for Conferences? You bet.

    Full time staff? I would be shocked if Management of the facility could not be handled on some sort of Work share management agreement with the Co-op students of Mohawk, Sheridan and McMaster at little or no cost to the City on an on going basis. It might even be self sustaining.

    Cheaper to steamroll the whole thing and start from the foundation up and get it done right at half the cost.
    Doesn’t McMaster have an Architecture Faculty? Their is no end of Skilled trades development done through the colleges still no?
    PPP Public, Private Partnership arrangements is the SunnyWays no? Who does the city do their banking with CIBC maybe, how about offering them their name along side the JB Museum?

    The political correctness run amok crew are at it again. Not a single person of decent authority has questioned the wisdom of this folly?

    I can’t wait to see the Emperors new clothes.

  18. There was a proposal years ago turned down down by Council. There is a dreadful need of priority in Burlington. NEED is not want or how things can be passed forward to next Council. Transportation, Accessible affordable housing , addressing poverty of seniors, etc. What I have mentioned is key and paramount for residents in Burlington. There seems to be complacency among residents plus skepticism.

    • Could not agree more Joan. There IS poverty in Burlington and the money is spent on things lilke ridiculous CEO salaries and a pier. Wrong priorities.

  19. As much as I understand that Joseph Brant was a significant figure in the history of Upper Canada and particularly our area, do we really need a museum entirely edicated to him? I was never so disappointed as when I finally visited the Joseph Brant Museum. The contents of the museum could and possibly should be incorporated into a larger museum dedicated to the history of the War of 1812

  20. Why can”t anything come in on budget except the top salaries. The Pier, Joseph Brant and now the museum. We work hard for our money and this is just not fair.

  21. This is a total waste of taxpayer dollars. How many more legacy projects does this council need to support. We need a workable Public Transit System to move the people in what will be the over intensified Burlington. Mobility Hubs are being touted as the way to go. Mobility implies movement, movement means public transit. City Manager James Ridge in his report to council called the present system “CRAPPY” and the City is in violation on many fronts and could be held legally responsible for not following work related government requirements. Council seemed”stunned” by this report. They have kept a very low profile on this. Other than the mayor in his newsletter indicating “Burlington has to work to meet the demands of public transit” that is all that has been mentioned. Our public transit system needs mega dollars and needs to be overhauled. Let’s put taxpayer dollars where they need to be – to improve the quality of life for all residents of Burlington. We can’t meet the demands now, before all the over intensification takes place.

  22. Well there is a municipal election coming up soon. Hopefully people don’t continue to vote the same faces in to City Hall.

  23. HOW can it cost $8-11 mil for the JB museum?! Mega mansions on Northshore fitted to the 9s with imported finishes cost 1/2 that for 5k sqft homes. This is frivolous spending at taxpayers ONGOING expense.

  24. This is complete BS! Joseph Brant lived simply not in a house made of GOLD. I have been a resident of Burlington since 1952 & the money that’s been thrown at this museum is in the millions now & you want to throw another 11+million into it? For what end? As another responder wrote this is turning into another white elephant like our “Pier to Nowhere”, the “Joke on the Lake”. This must be one of those “nice to have” which ALWAYS turns into “we gotta have it”. Seems EVERYTHING anybody & everybody thinks of that has anything to do with WASTING taxpayers money gets done in this city without anybody batting an eye. Well, its gotta STOP!!!

  25. This is the Pier all over again. This money should be directed to the Public Transit system that has been deemed by James Ridge to be “Crappy” and presently is in violation where the City could be held legally accountable. Does this Council never learn.

  26. Don’t know what’s hard about this. City says, “Sorry guys, too much. Sharpen your pencils.”

    Was nothing learned from the pier debacle???

What's your take?