BARRHEAD - Aaron the Blue Heron, or more accurately his twin brother, will soon be seen back on his perch, albeit at a slightly different location.
Town of Barrhead councillors voted 6-1 during their June 28 meeting to clear coat Aaron's unnamed brother, whose home is currently the aquatics centre foyer, place him back on a new perch in Gazebo Park. His old perch was on the corner of 50th Street and 49th Street.
Coun. Rod Klumph cast the opposing vote.
Councillors first considered Aaron's future on June 14, when they debated whether Aaron, who has spent over a year in the Barrhead Agrena, should be refreshed with a new clear coat and returned to his regular perch or spend up to $60,000 and replace him with an upgraded six-by-eight-foot bronzed blue heron statue.
The money for the bronze statue would come from reserves.
What followed was a pair of deadlocked 3-3 votes, with mayor Dave McKenzie, Klumph and Coun. Ty Assaf, voting for a new bronze statue, and Coun. Dave Sawatzky, Dausen Kluin and Anthony Oswald stating they should delay Aaron's eventual replacement, instead of going with the temporary clearcoat solution.
The reasoning for the bronze Aaron camp was that it was better to go with the more permanent solution, stating the municipality had the money in its reserves and the price to replace the bird with the more durable bronze statue would only increase with inflation.
On the clearcoat side, councillors noted that during their 2022 budget deliberations, they had decided to spend $6,000 for the clear coating option and delay replacing Aaron with a bronze version until 2025, and bumping up the replacement budget to $80,000.
Unable to break the deadlock council decided to table the decision until the June 28 meeting when Coun. Don Smith returned.
It is worth mentioning that since June 14, administration has revised the price for clear coating the existing Aaron the Blue Heron statue at $929.75 excluding GST.
"I understand that (during the budget deliberations) we agreed to go with the stopgap measure," Klumph said, referring to the clearcoat option, kicking off the June 28 discussion. "Good time management says we should visit it once. So if we have a chance to get this done with now, I say we should do it."
He reiterated his previous argument from June 14, stating the cost, due to inflation, would continue to escalate.
"I've calculated it out," Klumph said. "Inflation is going to cost us an extra $10,000. And we did decide to have this thing replaced, it was just a matter of when. Looking ahead, the Alberta government's purse strings are getting tighter and tighter, and as a result, so will ours. We have the money now, so let's get it done."
Sawatzky disagreed, also reiterating his argument from the previous meeting that they had made their decision during their budget deliberations and once again when they approved the final budget.
"I'm also going to challenge your 25 per cent inflation number ... $10,000 on a $40,000 quote.”
The town received two quotes, one from an Edmonton-based company at $52,189, while the other, from a Calgary company, was for $40,000 to $45,000 (pending further study of the current Aaron). Both companies stated they would use Aaron to create the mould for his replacement.
"We are not seeing that kind of inflation," he said. "Four months ago, we all sat in this room and chose not to put it in this year's budget. I don't think we should be changing our minds halfway through.”
Coun. Smith echoed Sawatzky's sentiments, suggesting they could spend $1,000 to put up Aaron's twin.
"I believe Aaron is important to the town, but now isn't the time to be spending that kind of money on a replacement," Smith said.
It should also be mentioned that in November, councillors unanimously decided against expediting a $15,000 purchase to replace the Aaron the Blue Heron mascot costume, which is beginning to show its age.
Kluin added his voice to Sawatzky and Smith, noting inflation was not a good reason to go against the budget.
"If you say we need to do this now because it's going to cost us extra, then we should bring everything into this year's budget," he said. "This is why we set budgets, to be responsible with taxpayer's money and now is not a good time to go into our reserves."
McKenzie said the revised cost of clear coating is what changed his mind, saying at $6,000 the expense of the stopgap measure quickly added up.
"We also need to think about the tourism perspective. For this price, we can have the bird mounted and up in a matter of days. If we go with a bronze statue, we are probably looking at fall at the very earliest," he said.
Assaf said the lower cost for clear coating also caused him to change his vote. He then asked if there had been any thoughts about having a local artist or group touch up Aaron beforehand.
"I'd just hate us to clearcoat something that looks atrocious," he said.
Chief administrative officer Edward LeBlanc said he did approach a local organization asking if they would be interested in doing the work, but he did not receive a response.
Oswald said that Aaron's twin has been stored safely in the confines of the aquatics centre and should look respectable, but if they were concerned, perhaps they could ask Grizzly Trail Motors, whose body shop would be doing the work, to do a bit of a touch-up beforehand.
At their March 23, 2021, meeting, following an in-camera session, councillors instructed administration to prepare a Request for Proposal for Aaron's replacement after deeming the statue unrepairable.
The town commissioned Trygve Seland in 1984 to create Aaron, and his identical twin brother, to be used as a stand-in when Aaron was in the shop getting touched up. Aaron's twin became a fixture at the Barrhead Regional Aquatics Centre after its completion in 2017.
Originally, the plan was for the municipality to hold a contest for a new look for Aaron the Blue Heron.
However, McKenzie told the Barrhead Leader before the June 14 meeting that the town put the statue to tender to ask for concepts from artists, but said they did not receive any submissions.