BEYOND THE HEADLINES: New facility on horizon

Headlines in Kelowna were recently dominated by a city decision to spend $48 million on a new police detachment

Headlines in Kelowna were recently dominated by a city decision to spend $48 million on a new police detachment.

The 52-year-old building is jammed to the rafters with 175 officers, and then the required support staff.

“The current facility is unacceptable,” said Coun. Colin Basran in the Capital News.

If the 90,000-square-foot project proceeds, Kelowna will borrow $42.3 million of the cost, while the remainder will come from reserves and adjacent communities that use the cells.

“It is important to remember that this facility is more complex than office space,” said John Vos, Kelowna’s infrastructure division director.

“It is part prison, part high-tech lab, part library and part armoury or high-security storage facility.”

National standards dictate much of the design necessary for RCMP detachments.

I raise the Kelowna discussion because a similar situation exists right here in the North Okanagan.

And the first indication of a problem is when you drive by the RCMP detachment in downtown Vernon. The designated parking lot is full and police cruisers have turned part of 35th Avenue into a parking lot.

Once inside the building, which was constructed in the 1960s, conditions don’t get much better.

A maze of temporary walls has been set up to provide officers with some sense of privacy as they dig through piles of paper on their desk. Space for records and physical evidence is at a premium, and given that incidents occur hourly, the amount of paper and stuff — including bags of marijuana — is in a constant state of motion.

The RCMP’s security measures are stringent and evolve frequently and such renovations in an old structure can certainly be challenging.

The other factor to consider is that the North Okanagan’s population is growing and that means more officers to deal with drug dealers, crooks, speeders and drunk drivers. In turn, there is an army of workers who take calls, monitor the cells, file documents and handle other tasks.

Presently, there are 85 officers and 51 support staff in Vernon. They are housed in 19,365-square-feet in the main detachment (4,882 square feet of that for cells) and 1,895 square feet in the city hall basement, and more room in city hall may be available in 2014.

But all of that could be outgrown  in three to seven years.

Ultimately, the City of Vernon will have to bite the bullet and go through a process similar to what is happening in Kelowna for a new, stand-alone detachment.

And the first step needs to be identifying a suitable location.

It has been previously suggested that a new detachment should be at the north end of Vernon but a large chunk of land will be extremely costly and taxpayers don’t have the resources of large corporations opening big box stores.

One idea that comes to mind is possibly using the Civic Arena property once another ice sheet is built in the community. It’s a large lot with room for parking, it’s central and has easy access to Highway 97 and 27th Street. The big bonus is that it’s already owned by the city.

But no matter where a detachment goes, the city must establish a long-term plan, including setting aside money in reserves to soften the financial blow.

Ultimately, no one will like the price tag for a new detachment, but when residents continue to insist that safety is an ongoing priority, it’s an issue that can’t be ignored.