THUNDER BAY — The president of the union representing workers at the Thunder Bay District Jail says he is hopeful after the provincial government announced this week plans to issue a request for proposals for the construction of the new Thunder Bay correctional facility by this spring.
“That’s welcome news to us all,” Bill Hayes, correctional officer and president of the OPSEU Local 737 said on Monday, March 8.
A spokesperson with the Ministry of the Solicitor General said in an emailed statement on Monday request for proposals (RFP) for the construction of the new Thunder Bay correctional facility are currently being finalized. The RFP is expected to be released by this spring, either by the end or shortly after the fiscal year.
“To see that the government is meeting the timeline is very positive and reassuring,” Hayes said.
The proposed 325-bed multi-complex correctional facility would replace the district jail and the Thunder Bay Correctional Centre.
Last fall, the ministry announced expansion projects at the Correctional Centre located on Highway 61 and at the Kenora Jail in an effort to address issues of overcrowding at both facilities. The expansion projects are expected to be completed by the spring of 2022.
Hayes said the announcement of the expansion project was treated with doubt as many believed it would delay the timeframe for the construction of the new jail.
“I was in the same boat as everyone else, wondering 'ok now we are getting an expansion well this is going to push back the new build?' So I am thankful to hear that the government has been meeting the timeline for the spring for the request for the proposal,” Hayes said.
In 2017, the Liberal government then in power announced the nearly century-old district jail and correctional centre would be combined into a larger facility with more than 300 beds. The Conservative government re-committed to the facility after they were elected in 2018.
The project has a price tag listed as $200 million to $499 million, according to a report by Infrastructure Ontario.
Hayes said the proposed new facility will be built on the existing correctional centre property on Highway 61.
With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Hayes said the need for a new correctional complex in Thunder Bay is stronger than ever.
There are currently more than 70 inmates who have been transferred from the district jail to other correctional institutions due to COVID-19 concerns.
At the moment, Hayes said there are roughly 100 inmates at the district jail but that number quickly climbs as there are more people being admitted than released.
Both the Thunder Bay jail and correctional centre suffered significant outbreaks earlier this winter and the outbreak at the jail has been significantly controlled, Hayes said.
“Right now at the jail we are at about five inmates and one staff member currently positive right now,” he said, adding the majority of the inmates that are positive are people who have been recently admitted into the facility.
“With the numbers in our community we continue to see them come up again upon admission and we take the necessary precautions and keep them isolated from everyone else,” he said.