While Moose Jaw’s historic town bell will soon have a new home at Mosaic Place, one city councillor is concerned that the project was awarded to a business without an open competition.
City council approved up to $20,000 during the 2021 budget deliberations to construct a stand for the 119-year-old bell. Since those deliberations, the parks and recreation department has worked with the Heritage Advisory Committee and Steady Metalworks of Moose Jaw to finalize the design and location of the bell stand.
During the July 12 regular meeting, council voted unanimously to accept the design concept and location and directly award the fabrication and installation contract to Steady Metalworks for $17,775.44 plus taxes.
The business is donating all design labour and shop labour to fabricate the stand, worth roughly $7,600. The stand is expected to be ready by September.
The new bell stand will be composed of steel, stand 15 feet high, have a base of 10 square feet, and be installed on the northeast corner of Mosaic Place on First Avenue Northwest. A plaque will also be installed near the 1,500-pound bell to highlight its history and significance.
For whom the bell tolls
The Town of Moose Jaw purchased the bell in 1902 and erected it behind town hall on Main Street and River Street. Back then, the bell hung on a 30-foot-tall wooden derrick that was rung for fires, curfews and to signal that prohibition was in effect.
Seventy years later, it was moved to Crescent Park and displayed near the art gallery before it was removed and stored in the city yards in 2010 because of vandalism.
Students from Saskatchewan Polytechnic refurbished the bell in 2018.
The bell tolls for thee
Coun. Crystal Froese, council representative on the heritage advisory committee, was excited to present the motion to council.
“As a committee, we did oodles of research. We couldn’t find a photo of the bell when it was installed. (However), we found articles about the first ringing in 1903 by Mayor (Charles) Unwin,” she said.
The committee thought about placing the bell near the Canadian Pacific Railway building on Main Street but found there were too many logistical hoops and costs, Froese continued. Conversely, Mosaic Place is near the original location and combines the past and the present in one space.
The bell can be rung since there is a clapper for it, she added. However, the clapper will only be in place for special occasions; the committee doesn’t want anyone climbing the structure to ring the bell.
A sour note
While this project was approved in the budget, the parks department directly awarded this contract to the company that designed it, said Coun. Dawn Luhning. She thought that the department should have tendered out the project unless its cost fell under a certain amount and was thus unnecessary.
During those budget talks, Luhning was the only councillor to vote against allocating money to the project.
One reason the contract was given to Steady Metalworks is that it was donating $7,600 of in-kind work, said Scott Osmachenko, acting parks and recreation department director. If this had been tendered, the business’ proposal would have been the highest one.
“It is not an insignificant amount of donation, but it should have been tendered,” Luhning reiterated. However, she added that she had to ask the question as a councillor while her concern had nothing to do with the company itself.
“We are all very aware of the work of Steady Metalworks (in the community) … ,” she added. “Sometimes when I sit here and represent who I represent and ask a question, I feel it can be misconstrued.”
The next regular council meeting is Monday, July 26.