Council considers alternatives to new RCMP building

Building a new RCMP detachment is not unlike constructing a fort but the costs are high.

Building a new RCMP detachment is not unlike constructing a fort but the costs are high.

Town council is looking at other possibilities before making a decision.

Architectural firm Stephens Kozak ACI, a company specializing in RCMP building design, was hired to provide some options to council — the findings may not have been expected.

The initial cost for a new 1,336 square metre building is estimated at $6.6 million, a major renovation and addition of 180 square metres would cost $2.9 million, and a minor renovation with no addition is estimated at $1 million. Victor Kozak presented the options June 24.

RCMP Staff Sgt. Cameron Chisholm requested new or improved accommodation to meet staffing demands since the building houses not only Ponoka RCMP but the Integrated Traffic Unit as well — in the basement. Population is also a factor to consider.

“This is not a high growth community from a staffing perspective,” said Kozak.

Staffing provided by Chisholm shows three rural Mounties, 11 municipal members and 11 on highway patrol. The number of officers needed on the largest shift is one rural, four municipal and four highway patrol officers. The building itself was constructed more than 35 years ago and was renovated in 1995.

The second option would add another 20 years to the building but would need to be expected to meet current building codes. Public washrooms are not in an easily accessible area and that creates a security concern.

“The public entry for example; there’s no vestibule for environmental control or public security,” said Kozak. “The lobby is really too small.”

A public interview room is not accessible from the lobby and Kozak is unsure whether it meets privacy levels. “It’s just not a tenable situation long-term.”

He discussed other areas of the building that do not meet code and would have to be dealt with if construction started. Some of those issues are layout, office space and electrical and mechanical issues. The ceiling is also too low at nine feet and needs to be raised to 9 feet 6 inches. Coun. John Jacobs asked about the cost and risk of a nine foot ceiling. Kozak said they design new ceilings to be 10 feet high to help prevent suicides in a cell block. “People do strange things in cells. That’s the reality.”

Another area requiring an addition is a sprinkler system as the roof is not fireproof.

“That’s a fairly significant hit and would be intrusive intervention in the building to run sprinkler lines in there,” said Kozak.

A major renovation would expand the building to be closer to the street and also fix building code issues.

A minor renovation would not upgrade the building at all but would adjust the office space. However the sprinkler system would still need to be installed. Kozak advised against the last option. “I would suggest it’s a short-term stop-gap measure.”

“There is a fourth one (option), which I’ll put on the table now and that’s to do nothing,” he suggested.

Not doing any renovations for the next few years means the town won’t have to make any building code adjustments. The current building is nearing the end of its life and council could build a new detachment after that time. “You’re at the end of your life expectancy.”

“How do you do all these major renovations while still operating?” asked Mayor Larry Henkelman.

Staff and officers would need access into the building from another point and may even have to be moved temporarily, Kozak said.

The inconvenience to operations could be significant. Electricity or plumbing may be shut down at certain times.

“You may still end up taking prisoners up to Hobbema,” offered Kozak.

If an officer has to run someone to a nearby detachment, that could take half a day out of a shift. Municipalities would foot the bill for overtime payroll and transport fees. “You would be paying for it somehow,” he stated.

The RCMP cost-share a portion of the building but Kozak is fairly confident RCMP K-Division will not cost-share the $2.9 million option; if upgrades are 25 to 30 per cent of a new building, they would. The second option is 50 per cent and the third option does not really solve the building’s space issues.

Coun. Rick Bonnett was worried cost sharing would become an issue for a new building as well but Kozak feels they can make a case for a new building.

Coun. Doug Gill asked how much time the last option would give the town before needing a new building. Kozak replied indefinitely since the plan shows changes only to the floor plan but he again advised against it. “There is going to be operational impact and the level of services you provide…There’s really not much benefit in doing that.”

Integrated Traffic Unit members could be moved as well. He feels the traffic unit can function without cells. That may be a possibility for RCMP K Division, he added. “If the manpower of the integrated traffic unit drives expansion, they will look at other alternatives.”

Those officers can be housed in office spaces at a reasonable cost but Kozak believes they are able to stay in the basement of the detachment until a new building is planned. “For my money I would be saving my dollars and build a new building.”

The next step for council is to meet with RCMP K-Division.

No money has yet been set aside but $500,000 has been planned for as a debenture for the project but no action has been taken. The town has also purchased land in the Froman Industrial Park.