THUNDER BAY - From office spaces once designed for two people now holding eight, a drug processing station in a garage, to limits on upgrading information technologies, the Thunder Bay Police Service headquarters on Balmoral Street no longer fits the needs of the service, says chief Sylvie Hauth.
“I think people don’t see the day-to-day of the reality of this building,” Hauth said. “It was built more than 30 years ago. In terms of space, we are at capacity.”
The Thunder Bay Police Service is looking for city council to approve a proposal passed by the Thunder Bay Police Services Board to construct a new $56 million headquarters.
In an effort to educate the public on the need, the Thunder Bay Police Service has hired a local public relations firm to launch the public education campaign, Together, Building Better.
“Our approach right now in terms of this campaign is to look at the future of policing in Thunder Bay,” Hauth said.
“It is a perfect opportunity with the new strategic plan for the board, but also in terms of how things are changing and evolving in our community and the pressing needs. I think it’s a perfect opportunity as a service and board to look at policing for years to come and focus on that new approach.”
The campaign will include information being shared on social media and the Police Service’s website, as well as taking out advertisements in local publications and on radio.
Hauth said she wants the public to understand the reality facing officers and staff working out of the Balmoral Street headquarters and why a new facility is needed.
“Some people may comment we can’t afford it right now. They see the outside and assume it seems fine,” she said.
“What we want to highlight to the community is the exceptional work our members do and not only do they deal with tough circumstances in the community, I want to highlight the fact with this campaign through the visuals so people understand their current environment and what they work with and the limitations here at the station. Not only limitations, but in some circumstances I believe risks and liabilities.”
Other limitations with the current building include a lack of training space, holding cell infrastructure dating back to the original Donald Street headquarters more than 50 years ago, as well as a lack of space to accommodate community partners, storage, and upgrading the buildings information technologies for departments such as the cybercrime unit.
This summer, the Thunder Bay Police Services Board passed a motion to approve the request for the new $56 million headquarters, which will now be presented to city council in January.
Several other options were presented to the Police Services Board, including upgrading the existing headquarters, or creating a smaller centralized headquarters with several satellite offices.
The cost of basic renovations to the Balmoral Street headquarters was estimated at $10 million, which would include replacing the roof that often leaks and upgrading the HVAC system. But Hauth said that still does not address the capacity issues and limitations of the structure.
The price tag for completely retrofitting and upgrading the existing structure was estimated at more than $64 million. Hauth added there are many challenges with expanding the building due to its construction consisting of cement block walls and the addition of a second-story using glass.
“How much longer do you keep putting large sums of money in terms of a building that currently doesn’t meet the needs, not only right now as a police service, but looking forward to years to come,” Hauth said.
According to Hauth, money from city debentures coming due in the next three years can be used to finance large capital project like the new police headquarters, and if interest rates and payments remain the same, it should not result in an increase to the municipal tax levy.
However, the city will have to balance funding for other potential large capital projects including the reconstruction of Victoriaville and the north core streetscape redesign.
“The reality is if we don’t do it now and the needs are pressing as it is, this isn’t something that we want, this is something that we need, it is imperative, if we wait the price tag gets more expensive as the years go by,” Hauth said.
Hauth will present the Police Service’s capital and operating budgets to Thunder Bay city council on Jan. 26, 2022.
“What I’ve been doing is encouraging all of council to come see first-hand what Balmoral looks like and give them an opportunity to see with their own eyes the limitations, liabilities, and risks associated with the building,” she said.
Thunder Bay Mayor Bill Mauro has spoken out against the new building as a member of the Thunder Bay Police Services Board.
"For me at this point, I’ve been clear at the board level that I am not in support of the new building, but I will keep an open mind heading into the capital budget deliberations in January," he said.