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Councillor calls out Marystown mayor for ‘grandstanding’ over town hall inaccessibility

The newly renovated town hall in Marystown opened in early April. Some landscaping and other work around the outside of the building is still being done.
The newly renovated town hall in Marystown opened in early April. Some landscaping and other work around the outside of the building is still being done.

MARYSTOWN, NL — Recent renovations to the town hall and inaccessibility to the building resulted in another clash in the Marystown council chambers Tuesday.

Mayor Sam Synard recently gave a television news interview where he discussed the town hall reopening to the public in early April before an inspection and without accessibility features – such as a walkway and a wheelchair ramp – being completed.

Apparently, the building’s elevator was also broken for a period of time.

The building remained inaccessible for people with mobility issues for roughly five weeks, until the first week of May, Synard said during the meeting.

“It’s a serious issue. Public buildings have to be accessible,” he said.

Councillors took issue during the meeting with the mayor going to the media without first consulting them.

Coun. Leonard Pittman pointed out there were measures in place for anyone who needed help accessing the building, one being the possibility of constructing a temporary ramp by the contractor who was still at the site.

“It really wasn’t as big an issue as you were trying to say it was,” Pittman said.

“Also, the elevator broke down. That wasn’t part of the renovations. That was beyond our control. We couldn’t know that that elevator was going to break down. The day that you did your interview there was actually someone here that afternoon to repair the elevator,” he added.

“To me, you were grandstanding. It’s just as well to be honest.”

Coun. Lisa Slaney said the intention was never for the building to be open as long as it was without accessibility, but bad weather in April prevented the contractor from doing the work. Slaney said the contractor and staff were “quite confident” the building was up to par.

“For a matter of a few weeks, they were trying to save $10,000 a month (in rent for temporary office space),” she said.

“(It) was no one’s intent at this table or on our staff to show disrespect to anyone who needed extra supports in coming into the building or attending meetings,” Slaney said.

It was anticipated the work would be done in two weeks, she said.

Synard called the use of the building “embarrassing, shameful, terrible.”

Coun. Darlene Lafosse apologized to residents on behalf of council for opening the building before it was accessible. She asked the mayor, however, if he knew the building was not in compliance. Synard responded he didn’t.

“The moment you knew you should have come to us instead of running to the media,” Lafosse said.

Coun. Mary Beth Farrell also asked the mayor why council couldn’t sit down and discuss the matter.

Synard claimed an email he sent to councillors three days before his television interview went unanswered.

“The point I’m making is no public building in Marystown should be open unless it’s accessible,” Synard said. “That’s our rules. That’s our own rules.”

Questions about renovations

Marystown acting chief administrative officer Mike Walsh, meanwhile, sought to clarify some misinformation making the rounds on social media about the town hall renovations.

Walsh pointed out the final cost of the work is unknown yet but will come in somewhere between $1.5 million to $2 million. The town’s portion of that will be 20 per cent or approximately $300,000 to $400,000, he said.

“The fact of the matter is this renovation should have been done years and years and years ago,” he said.

Walsh noted people have also been saying online that the cost of furniture for the building was between $80,000 to $100,000. The amount is actually closer to $40,000, he said.

“Virtually every piece of office furniture that we had in this building was reused,” Walsh said.

Furniture from the old council chambers is in storage in a town building, he added.

Stipulations in the contract with the general contactor for the town hall renovations requiring the town to pay for accommodations and tools were also discussed Tuesday.

Walsh said the Department of Municipal Affairs has heralded the town hall project as “exemplary.”

Synard asked Walsh to provide a complete breakdown of the most recent data of the renovation costs for the next meeting.

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