The Sad Neglect of Collingwood’s Terminals

Collingwood's Grain elevators
Whether you want to restore them or tear them down, you would probably like council to do SOMETHING about the decaying, century-old icon*on our waterfront. Anything, in fact. But as usual, council’s approach to actually doing something has been instead to do defer, delay, hire consultants, bloviate, ignore, pretend it doesn’t matter, and then pretend to want public input. The town’s website says:

The Town of Collingwood is taking another step forward in determining the future of the Grain Terminals facility. In doing so, the Town seeks to support a healthy, strong, and vibrant community that recognizes the value of its history and heritage, while responsibly managing for a solid fiscal future**… Community engagement and consultation is a critical component of this process. Multiple methods for the public to communicate and provide feedback will be used. The public feedback will influence the understanding of the cultural heritage values assigned to the site and will be a key component within the overall built heritage assessment and the recommended approaches.

Spoiler alert in case you haven’t learned this about our council by now: this group DOES NOT want to hear from you. Not about the terminals, not about anything. They will assiduously ignore your input as they have always done and they will censor fact-check any comments that don’t condescend to their pre-determined narrative. No dissension is allowed from the public, even though the website says:

The Town of Collingwood will offer meaningful two-way communication with residents. Our accessible community will empower all to participate in discussions, engage in activities, obtain information, and provide feedback regarding the heritage value of the study area.

That made you laugh, didn’t it? Ask resident John Megarry what he thinks of the town’s “meaningful two-way communication with residents.” If you don’t tug your forelock at them and praise their Great Leader, you’ll be accused of besmirching council’s reputation.

This is a ruse to pass the time while they avoid doing something. And while they pretend to be pondering your input, an election year will be upon us, they’ll preen for their re-election campaign and promise to do something next term. And if you re-elect them you’ll get more of the same.

And every year council does nothing, the Terminals rot a little more, the birds crap more in it, and the cost of fixing the Terminals goes up by as much as $500,000 a year, according to an engineering report presented to council, June 25, 2018 (plus it costs taxpayers a net of about $50,000 a year in staff costs for the minimal maintenance it receives, once you deduct the income from the yacht club and telecommunications providers). And how much more will that be now?

But don’t go looking for the engineer’s report: it conveniently disappeared from the town’s website. All you’ll get is a “page not found” error. Curious thing, that. Maybe council censored fact-checked the report so it vanished right off the internet.

But wait, instead of acting on the mountains of reports and data already received, council is hiring ANOTHER CONSULTANT to look at the material council has been ignoring, so he or she can write ANOTHER REPORT that will, no doubt, be ignored by our reading-averse council:

The Town of Collingwood seeks an Advisor to provide comprehensive advisory services for the potential redevelopment and revitalization of the Collingwood Grain Terminals and the surrounding lands, seeking to achieve the Town’s policy objectives for this area.

This potential advisor has the option (NOT the requirement) of even visiting the site (capital letters in original):

An OPTIONAL Site Visit will be held September 8, 2021 appointments start at 10:00 am ET. Location of the meeting will be Collingwood Grain Terminals

And what will that advisor do? Apparently, he or she will prepare to help create bids so someone other than the town can redevelop the terminals:

The Advisor is to provide best in class (sic) advice and guide the Town in preparing for an open market competitive bid process to attract innovative opportunities for the redevelopment of the Terminals and inform the development of the surrounding spit area.

Doesn’t that rather negate the whole public consultation process? Why listen to the public when you plan to turn everything over to the private sector (look at the debacle Saunderson and his cronies created when they privatized our electricity utility!). Have I already told you council wasn’t planning to listen to you?

A bit of history. The previous council (including Saunderson, Jeffrey, Doherty, and Madigan among them) heard a staff report about the Terminals in January, 2017. At that meeting,

Director of Public Works and Engineering, Brian MacDonald provided an update to the committee which included a historical review of the building and explained that any next steps would require a structural engineering study.

After which, the Terminals were ignored by council until June 25, 2018 (an election year) when another report on the building’s condition was presented to council. The minutes of that meeting note (emphasis added):

11. STAFF REPORTS
11.1. Collingwood Terminals Engineering Condition Assessment
Will Teron, P. Eng. of Tacoma Engineers, provided a brief presentation to the Terminals Assessment which included the history of the building, structural conditions of the building, secondary elements including platforms and walkways, windows and doors. Hazardous materials were identified (guano) in the Marine Tour area being most significant. Recommendations and four (4) approaches to address a restoration strategy were explained, and included:

  1. full remediation and repair over the next five (5) years at an approximate cost of eight to nine million dollars;
  2. phased two remediation and repair in priority sequence, which would have a higher cost depending on how long it is extended over;
  3. abandon the facility – contracts for telecommunications, and;
  4. demolish building to grade level that would require an environmental abatement at a cost of approximately five million dollars.

That was more than three years ago, and before the pandemic sent the cost of lumber and other building supplies through the roof. A story in CollingwoodToday back then was titled “That’s a lot of bird poop.” It noted that “The estimate to fix up (and clean up) the terminals to continue their use as a decommissioned industrial site is about $10 million, and that’s if not much more time passes before repairs are made.” It added:

Teron estimates $8 million to $9.7 million in costs if the town were to complete full remediation and repair of the building over the next five years. That’s including $2 million for environmental clean up, $3.5 million for the roof repair, $3 million for concrete restoration, $500,000 for windows and doors, $300,000 for interior systems, and $400,000 for waterproofing and drainage.

Teron recommended “complete full remediation and repair of the building over the next five years.” More than three years have passed and nothing has been done. But that’s not surprising for a council that has otherwise accomplished nothing for the community. I expect they’ll raise a bronze plaque in town hall next year that lists all their names and says, “This is to recognize that for the four years of their term, the 2018-2022 council accomplished nothing, and was proud to do so.”

This story was reprinted in Sudbury under the quaint title, “Safety inspection finds bird poop up to two feet deep in Collingwood grain building,” and it also noted:

… an engineer has identified multiple safety issues in the Collingwood grain terminals building, including in the marine tower where groups of birds have made a home over the years. The guano (bird poop) was two feet thick in some spots, preventing access to the tower entirely.

(For those of you living in the 21st century, that archaic imperial measurement translates to approx. 60cm. It wasn’t noted as such in the story, yet the media thought the common term, guano, needed to be explained. I continue to be bemused by our media’s poor judgement.)

On Simcoe.com, the story was titled, “Costs to repair Collingwood’s iconic grain terminals could top $10 million” and in it was this gem about the continuing, incremental decay:

Coun. Kevin Lloyd asked, “What is the deterioration rate over the next five years, 10 years and what is that going to cost us?”
Teron said the building is likely deteriorating at a rate of about two to four per cent annually.

That report was commissioned in 2017, so here we are four years later: a deterioration of between eight and sixteen percent already. But, one has to suspect, the deterioration will be accelerating: the longer nothing is done, the worse the damage. And, of course, the higher the cost to taxpayers.

Back in 2017, a community Facebook page called “Save The Collingwood Grain Terminals” was created by a local resident to express public sentiments about the Terminals. Comments have been overwhelmingly positive about saving the building, but that, too, seems to have been ignored by council. Plus there’s a “Collingwood Terminal and Harbour Action Group” that has published letters in local media, and garnered  8,300 signatures on a petition supporting saving the Terminals.****

Clicking on the “staff report” link on that 2018 council agenda, however, won’t display this report sp you can read Teron’s conclusions for yourself. Another victim of Berman’s censorship fact-checking weasels?

The fate of the terminals was raised during the 2018 municipal election and promises were made to “do something.” And even though four members of the previous council that received Teron’s report were re-elected (including Brian Saunderson), the terminals vanished from the new council’s radar. Well, so did openness, transparency, accountability, and ethics, but let’s not digress.***

In July, 2019, Simcoe.com wrote a piece titled, Collingwood council still working on fate of grain terminals.” But all that ‘work” has resulted in the usual nothing. The story noted:

At its July 24 meeting, councillors approved a motion asking staff to report back on options for the terminals, options that include — but aren’t limited to — consideration of a public-private partnership, full divestiture, or integration into the town’s waterfront master plan.

Apparently “working on” something is a code for “not doing anything about it.” Aside, that is, from spending more taxpayers’ money on consultants.

In late 2019, the town’s own website ran an article at that time titled, “Town seeks Public Input on Next Steps for the Collingwood Grain Terminals.” Yet here we are, 20 months later and what happened to that input? Like all things from the public, council ignored it. Or perhaps council censored fact-checked the input out of existence.

Also in December 2019, divers went into the icy water of the bay to examine the 4,000 wooden piles that hold the Terminals up. It wasn’t until August, 2020, that council heard yet ANOTHER presentation about the Terminals, this one focused on those foundations. Why council didn’t ask to have them examined in 2017 is a mystery… Brian MacDonald warned about the pilings back in January, 2017:

“There has always been a question about the integrity of those wooden pilings because the lake level have fluctuated over time,” MacDonald said.  “There is nothing that suggests there are problems. There are no major cracks, there are no settlements. We don’t know where to begin, what kind of tests you do.”

But nothing was done about them until almost three years later. According to CollingwoodToday, the engineers who wrote the report on the pilings said “a repair strategy would be “prudent” to mitigate further decay to the exposed piles.”

“This assessment is based on the assumption that the facility continues in its current use with limited access by authorized personnel or contractors only,” noted the Tacoma report.

Should the facility be redeveloped, the engineers stated a detailed structural analysis would be required.

And what did council do about that “repair strategy?” Right: as you would expect, nothing.

A story in Simcoe.com from Aug., 2020, titled, “Engineering assessment finds Collingwood terminal foundation in fair condition” noted:

An assessment conducted by Tacoma Engineers of the wooden piles that support the massive concrete structure found those tested were “in fair condition given the age of the structure.”

The story also noted that, “The assessment is expected to be presented to council’s strategic initiatives committee on Sept. 9, along with a report from staff.” However, there was nothing on the Sept. 9 agenda about the Terminals. Or on the subsequent council meetings, Sept. 16 and 23. However, a staff report finally appeared at the end of October, 2019. This “white paper” outlined vague, nebulous steps for almost, possibly, considering maybe going forward, but ended recommending just waiting for more public input, while council ineffectively waves its collective hands:

…that staff undertake a public consultation on it prior to final consideration of the process and next steps toward a decision.

Whew. That lifted the necessity for council to actually DO SOMETHING off their shoulders, and made it staff’s responsibility. Not to actually DO SOMETHING, mind you, but to mire the process in the treacle of bureaucracy and reportage rather than act. And to push the necessity of making a decision further down the road. In the white paper’s executive summary (attached to the staff report), it noted,

A decision must be made in the next several years about the future of the Collingwood Grain Terminals (the Terminals) building. If it is not, the opportunity to preserve and re-use them will be significantly decreased due to deterioration.

That was written almost two years ago. How many years is “several”? Will we have to wait until the building demolishes itself from neglect?

Instead of acting, council dithered, then hired yet another consultant (the third or fourth since 2017) to explore options again:

The Town of Collingwood is working with the heritage firm, Archaeological Research Associates Ltd (ARA), to prepare a Built Heritage Assessment of the Collingwood Grain Terminals and surrounding property. A Built Heritage Assessment will establish an understanding of the cultural heritage value or interest (also referred to as CHVI or Heritage Value) of the Grain Terminals and surrounding property.

From the Town of Collingwood – Document Center (sic) August 14 at 12:01 PM:

The Town of Collingwood is moving forward in determining the future of the Grain Terminals and surrounding area. In doing so, the Town seeks to support a healthy, strong, and vibrant community that recognizes the value of its history and heritage, while responsibly managing for a solid fiscal future.
The Town of Collingwood is working with the heritage firm, Archaeological Research Associates Ltd (ARA), to prepare a Built Heritage Assessment of the Collingwood Grain Terminals and surrounding property. A built heritage assessment will establish an understanding of the context and history of the Grain Terminals and surrounding property in order to provide recommendations about the conservation of heritage attributes.
Consultation with the local community is an essential component for determining the community assigned heritage value. Explore Engage.Collingwood.ca to find key information, including a timeline for engagement opportunities, links to key heritage related documents, key contact information, a space to ask questions, and various opportunities to provide comments, stories, and feedback. ARA, Council, and Staff will consider all heritage related feedback as part of the assessment.
Archaeological Research Associates Ltd.

What this really means is “The Town of Collingwood is moving forward in determining a possibility of perhaps considering the likelihood of debating the potential for maybe thinking of an opportunity to examine the necessity of acting upon receiving a further series of consultants’ reports.”

And now they’re hiring an “advisor” who may actually visit the site. Your tax dollars at work.

More consultants, more reports, more excuses, more delays, and the Terminals continue to decay every day nothing is done. But nothing is what our council is best at.

Collingwood deserves better.

PS. I’m with the “save it” opinion. I was a member of an earlier council that actively, but unsuccessfully, sought private investors or buyers to help re-purpose the Terminals at no or low cost to the taxpayers. Council was in negotiation with a potential buyer in 2013 when someone local complained about the sale to the OPP. Police investigated. They found the complaint groundless, no charges were laid, everything was above-board, and it was dropped. However, the potential buyer was scared off and the deal collapsed as a result of the complaint. It could have been rebuilt and restored by now had that person not undermined council’s efforts.

~~~~~

* Okay, not quite a century old yet: 92 years since they were opened. From a piece in CollingwoodToday:

Collingwood’s grain terminals were built in 1929. The town purchased the site in 1997, but the building is unused. The terminals were used for grain service for 64 years, which ended in 1993. Collingwood was involved in the grain trade for 123 years. Over the years there have been some proposals for converting the grain elevators into other usable space including for a mushroom farm.

** Annoying, self-serving piffle, that statement. “Responsibly” managing our fiscal future does not go well with throwing egregious amounts of taxpayers’ money at sole-sourced legal firms, one of which just happened to be the former employers of Mayor Saunderson and Councillor Hamlin. That’s called “corruption.”

*** This council quickly “forgot” its campaign promises about the terminals and focused its efforts solely on the Saunderson Vindictive Judicial Inquiry (aka the SVJI). Council lavished egregious amounts of taxpayers’ money on lawyers to keep this vendetta alive (including a lot of money gone to Mayor Saunderson’s and Councillor Hamlin’s previous employers; sole-source appointed without the proper procurement process as the bylaw requires, and no one in the media commented on the conflict of interest…). Since 2015, the SVJI has cost taxpayers well over $10 million, but the terminals have cost nothing because Saunderson and his cabal haven’t bothered with them, including doing any of the necessary cleanup and maintenance to keep them from further decay.

Had our council spent that money on the terminals instead of on Saunderson’s personal vendetta, the site could have been restored by now and available for use as a viewing platform, perhaps a restaurant, condos, museum, vertical farm… any number of potential uses were possible.

But instead, they spent our tax dollars on lawyers and all Collingwood got for our money was a report about decade-old processes and events. And not even a paper report: a digital file. Way to go, Saunderson sycophants: you let us down again. And Saunderson himself abandoned his responsibilities to the office by declaring he wanted out and to be the next MPP instead. But no one really expected this lot to actually live up to their oaths of office, did we?

**** The late John Wiggins was one of the very few public voices expressing a desire to see the Terminals demolished. See his interview in the July, 2017, issue of On The Bay Magazine.

 

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5 Comments

  1. I wonder how many of our council have actually been inside the Terminals? I assume that in order to make a fully informed decision, all of them would have had at least one tour of the building, seen the structure, seen the damage, asked relevant questions about the structure. But then, when do they ever make an INFORMED decision about anything? To date, I have yet to see any indication that a single ONE of them has been inside it.

    I also neglected to add that there’s a parallel between the ongoing neglect of our streets and sidewalks, and the ongoing neglect of the Terminals. Our streets decay, the Terminals decay. Council does nothing about either. But they keep throwing money at Saunderson’s and Hamlin’s former employers (hired sole-sourced without even an attempt to obey the town’s procurement bylaw). I sense a pattern.

  2. T.

    Wow, Ian, you’ve spent a lot of time on this.

    Let’s look at 2 options: total teardown vs. total refurbishment into a vacant elevator.

    Teardown, maybe $10M to $15M then the concrete recycle & remediation of the site, then what……. sell it to a condo builder for huge dollars as long as they preserve some look of the eld structures. I’m not opposed.

    Refurbish: into what? And for what purpose? Total cost to spif it up and paint/sandblast – $2M to $10M. I don’t know – money spent but never to be recouped.

    Option 3, not referenced previously – an “Elevotel.” Yep. Cost $20M or more but who wouldn’t want to live in an old silo with all the amenities?! Think of the sound effects as you play your cello.

    They had considered transforming old prairie grain elevators into elevotels. Not sure how it turned out but the concept was good.

    • The last council I was on agonized over what to do and decided that a public-private partnership would be best. We offered the property for sale. But wait… some history…

      Back in late 2006, a representative of Framm Slocker (the company developing the former shipyards) came to council, uninvited, and offered to buy the Terminals to create a hotel/condo development there. They would keep the town side intact, and create a whole new front face for the building. There would be a classy restaurant at the top, too. It sounded great!

      But the election was coming up in a few weeks, so that council put him off to let the next council could decide what to do. As I heard it, the man approached the incoming mayor in the early months after the election, and was told not to come back. The project died. And then the 2008 crash came and a lot of development died.

      Earlier, a local person had made a proposal to turn the terminal containers into high-tech, vertical composters, but the council of the day (before I was elected) ignored him. My last council received plans to turn them into a mushroom farm, a vertical farm, and a solar-energy source. But none of the proponents had the money to fully develop them. A potential buyer dropped out when a local resident decided to undermine council’s efforts and called the OPP (the police investigation found no wrongdoing).

      Midland’s experience with demolition showed it isn’t as easy or inexpensive as the town was led to believe.

  3. David Holroyd

    Ian, give this council a break, they are going to make Maple Street into a bicycle lane. Now that to me is really smart – kind of like eating raw meat because you do not like heat. My dog would make better decisions and I don’t even have a dog. Dave Holroyd

  4. Pingback: Why is Millennium Park so Poorly Maintained? – Scripturient

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