In a shocking display of hypocrisy and self-interest, Brampton’s Ward 3/4 City Councillor Jeff Bowman rushed through a motion to allocate $1 million in the city’s budget to erect a “replica” 750 square feet barn on the Historic Bovaird House site. Equally concerning is city council’s split decision to support the project without the normal due diligence and in conflict with prior council decisions.
The idea for the barn project comes from the Friends of Bovaird House (FBH) charity that operates the Historic Bovaird House property on Bovaird Drive East near Kennedy Road. In 2016, the charity spent an estimated $20,000 to purchase, dismantle and move the existing Robinson Barn from its original location in Caledon. The dismantled barn is currently stored at the City’s Sandalwood Public Works site in sea containers and covered with tarps. The condition of the barn components is unknown as weather and rodents pose a risk of deterioration, especially the larger beams that are stored outside. The City is currently evaluating options on how to make the barn a useable space that meets building code standards for public occupancy.
Michael Avis, Chairperson of FBH delegated to the council budget committee that the exclusive use of the barn is for housing and displaying vintage farm vehicles. The vehicles are currently stored in pieces in the cellar of the Bovaird House. Avis said that it “would be very nice to have a display space for these pieces” and that “the need for a heritage barn is not hard to understand.” Avis asked council to “push ahead and getting something” into the 2022 budget, specifically adding “not a million dollars” as that would be “off the books.”
The two-acre site for Bovaird House was sold to the City by the Bovaird family in 1985 for $2. FBH has been managing the volunteer operation and programming for the site with 38 volunteers who contribute up to 4,000 hours each year. The last partnership agreement with the City is in dispute as Avis indicated an agreement was updated “a couple of years ago” and city staff have indicated the last agreement was established 2002. City staff also indicated that they are currently undertaking a negotiation for an updated partnership agreement with FBH for council approval in Q1 or Q2 next year.
Jeff Bowman is listed on the FBH website as a committee member under the title Brampton Regional Councillor. Bowman is a City Councillor in Ward 3/4 and Bovaird House is in Ward 1/5. Bowman’s wife is also a volunteer with FBH.
In addition to the Bovaird House, the site also features a log cabin. Avis told council the log cabin on the site “was donated, dismantled, moved and rebuilt at virtually no cost to the city,” however staff later indicated that the city has already spent $1.2M on the property since 2012. Avis indicated that FBH had not applied for any grant funding from other levels of government, citing that the property is owned by the City of Brampton.
Ward 1/5 Councillor Rowena Santos raised concerns about accountability thresholds that other non-profits must follow to access funds from the city, particularly through the established Advance Brampton Fund. Santos said that “financing debt for a million dollars to reconstruct a barn is difficult for me to support a this time, given the fact that there are negotiations happening right now to update that partnership agreement that is outstanding for nearly 20 years.” When asked by Santos if the barn could be used by the community for any other purpose, Avis indicated “not really” as the vintage equipment should not be moved.
A report to Council in March 2021 cited numerous project concerns that the estimated $800,000 cost at the time would “experience significant price escalation” due to lack of drawings and unknown condition of the materials. At that time, staff recommended only the design funding of $160,000 be approved so that a “more accurate 3rd party estimate can be developed”.
Ward 1/5 Regional Councillor Paul Vicente stated that he had seen a preliminary version of a soon to be completed staff report in his role as a sitting member of the Brampton Heritage Board and advised all of council read the final report before making a funding decision.
Ward 9/10 City Councillor Harkirat Singh said that “I can’t justify this…especially in this year, we’re talking about a COVID year, budgets are tight, we’re trying to bring taxes low, in no conscientious way can I justify this to my residents.” He added that “I need speed bumps, I need community police station, I need a bunch of things and I will be questioned heavily.”
With these glaring issues and a pending staff report, Councillor Bowman was unamenable to any solution other than immediate approval of $1 million for this project. A staff report accepted by council in April 2021 stated that “additional funding for the construction phase can be requested for Council approval after the design is available, the materials have been reviewed, and a more reliable third party estimate can be developed.” Noteworthy is that Bowman pledged during his re-election “to make decisions based on sound advice, information and judgement.”
Prior to the barn discussion, Glen Williams from the Brampton Board of Trade specifically mentioned to Councillor Bowman that debt financing for projects like a barn restoration is “not strategic.” Bowman questioned why city staff was now considering debt financing for the project.
Santos made multiple attempts to defer the funding decision until city staff reported back with more information. Four successive votes were taken with various options to refer back to staff, each failing. The final vote approved an immediate allocation of $500,000 in the 2022 budget and another $500,000 in the 2023 budget.
Voting in favour of immediate funding:
Doug Whillans (Ward 2/6)
Jeff Bowman (Ward 3/4)
Martin Medeiros (Ward 3/4)
Gurpreet Dhillon (Ward 9/10)
Pat Fortini (Ward 7/8)
Charmaine Williams (Ward 7/8)
Voting to refer to staff and defer a funding decision:
Mayor Patrick Brown
Rowena Santos (Ward 1/5)
Paul Vicente (Ward 1/5)
Michael Palleschi (Ward 2/6)
Harkirat Singh (Ward 9/10)