Museum board seeks $430k from reserves for design of Joseph Brant Museum redevelopment

Rendering of the Joseph Brant expansion.

Rendering of the Joseph Brant expansion.

The Burlington Museums Board is seeking council approval to proceed with detailed design for  the redevelopment of Joseph Brant Museum, using $430,000 from the Joseph Brant Museum Transformation Project Reserve Fund held by the city. The reserve fund has a balance in excess of $1.2 million. If approved, the design work would be done between April and December. One public open house would be held during this period.

The museums board has also requested staff assistance from the city’s Capital Works department. The work would take approximately 20-25 days (4-5 weeks), and is not currently included, therefore other works would have to be re-prioritized.

The item will be considered as part of the Development & Infrastructure Committee of March 22, and by council April 11. More information about the committee is available here, with links to the agenda reports:

Completing design work now would bring the project to readiness as a sesquicentennial project potentially eligible for senior government funding, notwithstanding that such funding has not been secured.

Contingent on funding from higher levels of government, the project will take 21 months to complete, from pre-qualification of general contractors, tender design, tender award and construction through to substantial completion.

Side view of the museum expansion.

Side view of the museum expansion.

Joseph Brant Museum is a replica of the original homestead of Joseph Brant (1742-1807). The current facility was built in 1937-38. The project calls for transforming the museum into Burlington’s Community Museum and Heritage Centre, a meeting place that will bring national exhibitions to Burlington, showcase the city’s collection of 25,000 culturally significant artifacts, become an accredited archives, and create a cultural destination.

The construction budget is estimated at $10.2 million.

In January 2010, council approved the Schematic Design for the Joseph Brant Museum expansion facility. In May of that year, council suspended the expansion project, pending receipt of senior government funding. The city has committed $2.1 million; the Burlington Museums Foundation has committed to raising $2.1 million. The museums board has applied for federal funding for $3.3 million and provincial funding of $2.5 million. The federal government has said it will not commit to the project unless provincial funding is provided, or there are assurances the project can proceed without the provincial contribution.

If senior government funding is not secured when the detailed design phase is done, the board is asking for funding to be set aside in the 2017 capital budget for the required asset repair and renewal of the existing facility.

With their request for design funding, the museums board has provided council with a construction budget and post-construction operating costs, including expected revenue from major exhibits. The submission indicates that:

  • The gross budget is projected to increase from the current level of $411,000 in 2015 to $588,000 in the first full year of operation (2018), and $600k by 2019.
  • The city of Burlington grant would go from the current level of $336k (2016) to $378k in 2019 (roughly 3% per year; current budget assumptions increase funding to all city boards by 2% per year).
  • Revenues from travelling exhibits ranging from $85k to $272k ; For comparison, an 8-month “unwrapping Egypt” exhibit in Kitchener earned $90k, net of expenses; a four month “Titanic” event earned $775k in net revenues.

My Take: I am supportive of this project, subject to senior government funding from both the province and the federal government, with no additional request to the city should either level not agree to funding. Without the expansion program, the museum requires renovation for maintenance and accessibility. The renovation alone has been projected to cost $1 million. For an additional city investment of $1 million, which has already been approved and budgetted for, the city can leverage private and government funding for a new facility. The additional operating expenses would be nominal – a 3% increase in the city contribution versus the 2% they would normally get, so a change to budget of 1%. Plus, the museum would be able to generate revenue to offset the remainder of increased operating expenses. The facility would be a showcase for heritage artifacts in the city; there is no space like it now, so many of our artifacts are stored.

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