Central Barrie cop shop on the horizon

“The police board will have to find ways to build the first phase of the new headquarters at a lower cost.” – Ward 4 Coun. Barry Ward

By John Devine
City Scene Barrie

Persistence finally paid off for the city’s police services board as general committee backed the often discussed but never, until now, municipally endorsed single-building model for Barrie police services.
But the new police home won’t come as quickly as the police board had hoped as committee adopted a motion by Ward 6 Coun. Michael Prowse to delay the project by five years and trim $6.8 million from its projected budget.
That pushes the timeline for the design and construction of the single-building centre to 2017-2019 instead of the suggested 2012-2014 timeframe. Cost is estimated to be about $32 million, roughly the same amount the City has already allocated for the project. A staff report pegged the cost at $38 million to $41 million, but that was before committee opted to trim the budget by the $6.8 million.
The plan also calls for $475,000 in renovations to existing police facilities.
A site for the 80,000-square-foot centre would be purchased in 2012-2014. Plans include a 50,000-square-foot extension in 2025-2027, costing an estimated $15 million, bringing total estimated cost of the single-building project to about $47 million.
Ward 4 Coun. Barry Ward has been a vocal opponent of the single-building model. However, he said new information prompted a rethink in his stance. Still, he said he finds the exercise “incredibly frustrating because the rules kept changing as we went along.”
Ward said a 2008 consultant’s report and staff reports up to last year all indicated the police centre at 29 Sperling, opened in 1993, was sufficient for policing needs, simply requiring some upgrades and expansion.
“With that in mind, I favoured a plan to spread out policing services among three existing buildings, which would save taxpayers, we were told, more than $10 million. A couple of months ago, we were told the Sperling Drive building no longer met Ontario Building Code requirements for emergency buildings. Just this afternoon (Monday), we were informed by email from city staff that the building would have to be gutted “to its shell” for repairs, to the tune of $15 million.
“Faced with this information, I supported Coun. Prowse’s amendment to move forward with a new central station, but at the same cost as we already have budgeted in the 10-year capital plan. The police board will have to find ways to build the first phase of the new headquarters at a lower cost.”
Provincial plans to reverse the downloading that accompanied the deficit wars of the 1990s may also help to finance the project, easing concerns the city is taking on too much debt and that other funding priorities might suffer in the wake of a new centralized police centre.
Mayor Jeff Lehman proposed using the nearly $3 million a year the City would save if the province follows through on plans to upload court-security costs, a process that’s expected to be stretched out over the next seven years.
Not all costs would be recovered, he said, and advised committee that this was not “found money” that could be used for other purposes, if his plan is adopted.
“It’s time we started paying more as we go, relying less on debt … that’s going to pay for nearly half the capital costs of the project.”
Court-security costs were downloaded to municipalities by the government of former premier Mike Harris. The downloading came on the heels of cuts to provincial transfers by the government of Jean Chrétien and his finance minister, and later prime minister, Paul Martin, as they battled the deficit of the day.
The mayor said the money would be put aside in a reserve fund. A staff report on the ramifications of such a strategy is expected before any definitive action is taken.
Lehman, who as mayor sits on the police board, said the board’s position is that action is needed sooner rather than later if efficiencies are to be fully realized. However, the mayor added he shares concerns about adding to the city’s overall debt.
The police service currently operates from three main facilities: 29 Sperling Drive, 60 Bell Farm Road and 79 Bell Farm Road. A satellite office is located downtown at the bus terminal on Maple Avenue.
The report included two other options: a three-building model and a two-building model.
Phase one of the three-building model would involve renovations to the 25,000 square feet of space at 79 Bell Farm Road, owned by the City. The renovations would create an indoor firing range, training facility and space to store evidence. Estimated cost of this phase is $6.8 million.
Phase two would involve renovations to 60 Bell Farm Road, which is leased space, and a 20,000-square-foot addition to the Sperling Drive location. Total cost of this phase would be $24.7 million.
Phase three of the three-building model would involve leasing temporary space of 50,000 square feet to accommodate renovation and expansion of the original building on Sperling, at an estimated cost of $15 million. Total cost of the three-building model would be more than $46 million.
The two-building model calls for renovations to 79 Bell Farm Road (indoor firing range, training facility, storage space for evidence), at a cost of $6.8 million. Phase two, at $30.2 million, would require adding 60,000 square feet to the Sperling Drive operation. Phase three would involve the leasing of space while the original Sperling building is renovated and expanded, at an estimated cost of $15 million.
Total cost of the two-building model would be more than $52 million.
Ward 1 Coun. Bonnie Ainsworth had suggested a delay of three years instead of five, but that failed to gain the support of committee. Ward 7 Coun. John Brassard said committee had enough information to make a decision.
The Sperling Drive building was opened in 1993, and Lehman reminded committee that it was too already too small to serve the needs of the city on the day it opened. He urged committee not to make the same mistake, and plan for a centre that will serve a growing city.
“Let’s ensure we are not (repeating) the mistakes of the past.”

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