CHATHAM, ONT. -- Officials in Chatham-Kent are contemplating what to do with municipally-owned buildings while roughly 300 Chatham-Kent employees continue to work remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Chatham-Kent councillor Trevor Thompson says he wants to have a long term discussion about future use of the Chatham-Kent Civic Centre, and other municipal buildings, and how consolidation could be a reality with municipal workers working from home.

“I don’t want to close arenas or libraries, but if we could get a significant number of municipal employees working from home, then we should have a frank and realistic discussion about what sort of buildings we need as far as office space is concerned,” Thompson says.

He believes conversations are preliminary but early discussions have begun now that council approved a pilot working remote policy at its last virtual meeting. It’s expected to continue past the pandemic.

“Perfect balance will be a learning curve but something we need to move towards,” Thompson says. “If you can do it from home, why bother having a building anymore?”

A report to council said that each municipal employee working from home saves roughly $12,000 annually.

“Working from home is not for everyone. Not all positions can work remotely,” Chatham-Kent’s Manager of HR Strategy and Workplace Culture, Marianne Fenton tells CTV News that the pros and cons of remote working are being considered.

Fenton says efficiencies have been identified, while staff continue to detail where challenges at the new home office can be made.

“Working remotely has been effective and efficient for the 300 who have been working remotely since March,” she says. “We think that will only improve only time as technology and systems and processes improve.”

Fenton expects a more detailed report to be presented to council in the new year.

Meanwhile, the downtown Civic Centre needs upwards of $18 million in repairs. Fenton says Chatham-Kent will always have a city hall.

“We’ll continue to need a Civic Centre,” she says. “We’ll continue to need a building that is the hub for the public and employees related to municipal services.

“What it might allow is for us to consider other ways to accommodate more employees at the Civic Centre if some of them are working a percentage of their time remotely, and does that impact other buildings outside of the Civic Centre that we could perhaps downsize down the road.”