Toronto learned lessons from mould and other problems that boosted the cost of converting a Kingston Rd. motel into a homeless shelter by $3.2 million, and it won’t happen again, city staff say.
City councillors on the new government services and licensing committee lightly grilled bureaucrats Monday over what inspections were done on a Comfort Inn before the city agreed to pay $7.8 million in 2016 for the property and commit another $8.7 million to covert it to a city shelter.
The city didn’t realize the expensive structural problems, and others related to mould and rodent damage, until crews took down walls, city staff told committee members. The extra costs pushed the total price tag of converting the 30,000-square-foot building near Bellamy Rd. to about $20 million.
Staff said they hired an engineering firm to do a building condition assessment, and another on soil conditions, but the owner would not allow them to do more invasive testing behind walls because it was a functioning motel with guests coming and going.
“There were no outward signs of these issues,” and past renovations might have helped make the significant problems less apparent, councillors were told.
Councillor John Filion said he still has questions about the ballooning cost and wondered if the city could have saved money by subdividing the 65,000-square-foot lot.
“Rebuilding a property at a total cost of more than $20 million, most of which is for construction, at this kind of density on Kingston Rd. doesn’t make a lot of sense to me,” he said.
The shelter is being funded as part of a plan to open up beds as the city redevelops George St. downtown, including the razing and replacement of the Seaton House shelter.
The Kingston Rd. shelter is expected to open in early March, hold beds for 95 vulnerable people of all genders and to accommodate pets.
At the same meeting, committee members fast-tracked a licensing staff review of clothing drop-boxes, after one Toronto woman, Crystal Papineau, and multiple people in B.C. have been trapped and killed in the boxes.
The report with recommended changes slated to come in September will instead be ready in May, and look at multiple issues involving the bins where people drop old textiles to be sold offshore for resale and recycling.
“The largest city in Canada, having people sleeping on our streets … you look at the unfortunate circumstances of people going into bins,” to retrieve clothes or even sleep, said committee chair Councillor Paul Ainslie.
“I think we have a long way to go in this city dealing not only with these bins and make them safe but also the social aspect of why we even need these bins in the city in the first place.”
Toronto has issued 460 $100 drop-box permits to six charitable organizations and four for-profit firms, but has a “running battle” with others who illegally drop collection boxes on public and private property, committee members heard.
Councillors expressed other concerns, including garbage dumped around the boxes and even fires lit inside them.
Two representatives of Diabetes Canada told the committee their non-profit relies on more than 4,000 clothing bins across Canada to help fund research, advocacy and camps for diabetic kids.
All the Diabetes Canada bins are being retrofitted by the end of this week to eliminate “pinch points” where intruders can get stuck, they said. They encouraged Toronto to work with non-profits that use the boxes to develop a “textile diversion program,” like those in Markham and Newmarket, to regulate use of the boxes.
David Rider is the Star’s City Hall bureau chief and a reporter covering Toronto politics. Follow him on Twitter: @dmrider