How did we go from a $35,000,000 redevelopment of Library Square to almost $60,000,000? Many of us supported the idea, but not when the costs started to balloon. Cultural partners had to freeze their budget levels. Community concerns were ignored. It was solely a Council decision.
Shortly after capital approval, Library Square was renamed to Aurora Town Square or ATS. Library Square is now the most expensive capital project in the history of Aurora.
According to the Council Workshop meeting minutes from April 15, 2019, Council decided on three priorities for Council Term 2018–2022.
Library Square/Downtown Revitalization
Economic Growth and Development
Simply, Library Square was made a priority by Council under Mayor Mrakas’ leadership. Every meeting I attended, GC, Council, Committee, Board meeting, Library Square dominated the discussions over smart growth, economic growth and development.
On February 7, 2019, The Auroran reported: “Presented at Council at the end of January, the defining projects of 2019 under the new municipal plan include an earmarked $35 million for the redevelopment of Library Square and a further $9.4M to expand the SARC to accommodate a new gymnasium.”
On August 28, 2020, The Auroran reported: “Council awarded the tender for the construction of Library Square, including an expansive addition to the Church Street School, improvements to the Aurora Public Library, a bridge connecting the two buildings and a public gathering space below, to Chandos Construction in the amount of $41 million, bringing the total project budget to $51,939,500.”
It is important to know that the Library Square capital project was championed by Mayor Mrakas, Cllr Thompson, Cllr Kim and Cllr Humfryes—as indicated in the historic “4-3” August 25, 2020 Council vote. The members of the Aurora Town Square Project Monitoring Task Force are also Mayor Mrakas, Cllr Kim, and Cllr Thompson.
In further support of Library Square, on July 31, 2020, The Auroran reported: “The property, which is currently occupied by restaurants, professional services and other tenants have been purchased by the Town for $7,500,000 excluding taxes.” Details of Library Square property deal will remain behind closed doors.
Additional costs outside the Library Square set budget are the prior cost of demolition of the old Aurora Public Library on Victoria Street, the installation of charging stations, a budget for a Town van, and expansion of the IT infrastructure.
Taxpayers may not be aware that our last tax cycle already included funding for the operating budget of the non-operating Library Square.
The original completion date was set aggressively for August 2022 but is now extended to spring 2023.
Library Square Re-cap
The total project budget went from $35M to almost $60M. The financial burden included tapping into our Aurora Hydro Fund reserves and taking on additional debt financing.
On a positive note, The Auroran reported: “The campaign to raise capital for the Aurora Town Square project is $1.3 million closer to its $5 million goal thanks to donations from several developers.“
Furthermore, reconstruction of the current Aurora Public Library has impacted library service levels and accessibility for residents for about 2 years.
In the end, the Town of Aurora Council approved a 2.9% tax increase for the 2022 budget to maintain existing service levels while adjusting for continued funding for Library Square.