City of Orillia

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It’s All Going According to Plan
Orillia’s DPW follows a master blueprint to maintain city-wide momentum

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George Bowa is still new to the city of Orillia, but he’s very familiar with the neighborhood.

As director of public works in a south-central Ontario city of nearly 31,000 residents, the graduate of both McGill University (bachelor’s degree) and the University of Ottawa (master’s degree) is perpetually endeavoring to do as much as he can practically with whatever he’s allotted financially.

It’s a role similar to one he played for 18 years about 200 kilometers to the southwest in Waterloo, and for another seven years and 50 kilometers west in Stratford. So, while the geography and some specifics might change from place to place, the challenges rarely do.

“I don’t think it’s unique. Everywhere you go, you work according to the budgets that get approved,” he said. “So, various places have various allocations for infrastructure upgrades and dollar figures, and really that’s not unique. You work to what council approves and provides. There’s always more projects or more work that we can get done, but you’re limited by the amount of money.”

And while some frame the scenario as an unwinnable fight, Bowa leans pragmatic.

“Everywhere you go, everybody has either five-year plans or 10-year plans, but then you’re limited to the upcoming budget year in what you can get done. It’s not frustrating. It’s the reality we live in.”

In Orillia, his reality involves overseeing a public works operation whose full-time staff numbers 65 and whose tasks are broken down into five subsets – engineering, transportation, roads and storm, collection/distribution and parks. It’s similar, but not the same, as the jobs he’s had in other places, with some departmental tasks staying the same, while others are added or subtracted.

The city was home to 30,586 residents as of the 2011 census and has experienced slow but steady growth since the 2001 count, when the population was 29,121. Some of the growth is attributable, Bowa said, to local campuses of both Georgian College and Lakehead University, the latter of which arrived in 2006 and was the catalyst for increased residential and commercial activity in its vicinity.

The general headquarters function of the Ontario Provincial Police was established in the city in 1995, and another large swath of both employment and tourism comes to Orillia thanks to Casino Rama resort, located in Rama First Nation, about 15 minutes from downtown Orillia.

A significant chunk of Bowa’s daily activity revolves around adherence to the city’s transportation master plan, which was compiled in 2005 and most recently updated in 2011. In it, significant road projects are listed in priority order and it becomes Bowa’s job to work his way down the list as both circumstances – and finances – allow.

The list’s top project – a $3.4 million reconstruction and five-lane widening job on Memorial Avenue, between Highway 12 and United Drive – was undertaken in 2012 and has since been completed to base asphalt, as was a $1.5 million project that involved reconstruction and widening to four lanes of Atherley Road between Gill and East streets in 2013.

Next on the agenda is a multi-stage reconstruction and widening project on Coldwater Road, between West Street and Collegiate Drive, that’s pegged at $3.5 million. Bowa said the initial phase of the project would begin this summer and would be followed by phase two in 2015.

The 18 projects on the master plan update come with a composite price tag of $38.4 million.

Meanwhile, alongside the significant plan-worthy projects are smaller, local road improvements that occur concurrently to the larger-scale work.

“The main materials are the ones that we try and submit a project for upgrading and reconstructing, as per the master plan update,” Bowa said. “We then, of course, have local road reconstructions or smaller collector and local roads along with the resurfacing program.

“We generally do three to four projects annually of a full reconstruction nature. We’ll have a couple smaller local street reconstructions that are needed. It’s a matter of proposing and fitting it in within the overall city budget.”

Going forward, at least some of Bowa’s attention will be steered toward follow-through on Viewscapes, a project adopted by the city council prior to his arrival that aims to create roads or paths that visually connect the downtown area with the waterfront. A handful of existing routes, including Neywash, Coldwater, Colborne and King, have been specified as potential access roads in the plan.

Included in the process is the acquisition of available and appropriate properties and rights-of-way that will enable the creation of desired viewscapes and enhanced lake access.

“Ideally, you get the view coming down the road of the lake,” he said. “We go through the environmental assessment initially, and we’ll be doing it for one (Neywash Street). And once we have that approval we’ll be able to extend it right down to the lake. When future opportunities arise to maybe acquire rights-of-way or sections of rights-of-way, we would seek council approval to pursue the acquisition.”

Five years down the road, literally, Bowa expects those lake-centric projects – along with others that will add bicycle lanes to existing streets – to be the ones that have most impacted the Orillia landscape.

“I think what would look different is we would have some of these roads extending to the lake,” he said. “We’d have those Viewscapes projects either done or under way. And the other thing that I could see is having a lot more bicycling infrastructure – bike lanes and trails. I would consider that to be, probably, the most noticeable thing for the public to look forward to.”

AT A GLANCE

WHO: City of Orillia

WHAT: Home to 30,586 residents, according to 2011 census

WHERE: South central Ontario, between Lake Couchiching and Lake Simcoe, approximately 135 kilometers north of Toronto

WEBSITE: www.Orillia.ca