Council explores possible locations for new emergency building in Prince Rupert

The Prince Rupert City Council held the last of its public meetings on the emergency building, this time looking at location options.

The Prince Rupert City Council held the last of its five public meetings to explore various aspects of constructing new buildings for the Prince Rupert RCMP and Fire Department.

Monday’s meeting focused on possible locations for the proposed building or buildings.

Any location would need to be fairly central with access to main roads to allow for quick response times from both services. It would also need to be big enough to fit the improved – and bigger – buildings, without being too expensive for the city to purchase and develop, and meet the RCMP’s security requirements.

It’s a tall order, but the City and the architectural firm helping them with the preplanning phase, KMBR Architects and Planning, have looked at four different possibilities for where either a new police building, fire hall or joint-use building could be located.

The first option is using either or both properties on the intersection of McBride Street and 6th Avenue, which are the Moose Tot Park and the public tennis courts are currently located.

This was the most seriously considered option at Monday’s meeting and it is the option favoured by both RCMP Inspector Bob Kilbery and Fire Chief Dave MacKenzie.

“It doesn’t differ much from where we are now, its right across the street. When we talk about the lay of the land, the security aspects, accessibility to the main arterial roads, and accessibility for the public to our building, it meets all the criteria we are looking for,” says Inspector Kilbery.

“I agree with the Site 1 option. Our only concern is pulling [firetrucks] out onto McBride Street or 6th Avenue. We have a blind hill coming up McBride, we’d need some emergency traffic lights to stop traffic like other communities have,” says Chief MacKenzie.

There are a number of advantages to this location.

The tennis courts would take the least amount of work to develop. When they were built in 1997 the property was excavated to the bedrock and backfilled with good materials. This saves the City the trouble of doing that if they want to put a building on it. It would still have to be done to the tot park though.

The location also allows for easily hooking up new buildings to utilities, many of which run underneath McBride Street. And since the City owns both these pieces of property, they City wouldn’t need to spend money on buying property.

There are some downsides though. The most obvious  is that it would mean taking away well-used recreation areas in a city where such things are rare, at least temporarily.

While there are a couple public kids’ parks in Prince Rupert, few of them are as nice or well used as the Moose Tot Park.  This was not lost on councilors, who said that if they went with this option, finding a place to relocate the park or the tennis courts would have to be part of the project planning and cost estimates.

“I think we as a city need to let the community know that, and make it a promise, we will eventually replace the park,” says councilor Judy Carlick-Pearson.

Another drawback to the first option is that neither the park nor the tennis courts are big enough by themselves to have a joint-use building built on them. If they were, it would mean only replacing one recreation area, not both.

The architects suggested at the meeting that the City could approach the owners of adjacent lots, such as the Masonic Hall, about the possibility of selling. With the extra space, the lots would be big enough for a joint-use building.

The second option presented at Monday’s meeting was the lot right next to the Highliner Inn, where the Longshoremen’s Union building sits.

The pros for this location are that is plenty big enough for a joint-use building to be built, and the site is deep enough for possible underground parking.

But there is a list of problems with this site.

The City’s Public Works manager, Bill Horne, points out that this would be the most difficult and expensive property to develop. It has one of the City’s main sewer pipes running right through the middle of the property. Excavators would have to watch out for gas, water and hydro-lines running though the property as well.

This is the RCMP’s least favourite option, not because of development challenges, but because of security difficulties.

The Highliner Inn would serve as an excellent vantage point to monitor the comings-and-goings of officers at the RCMP headquarters. The RCMP doesn’t like having its buildings at the bottom of hills for exactly this reason. The RCMP is also wary of underground parking which would allow a car bomb to do much more damage to the building.

“We have some concerns about underground parking that might be required, and having a 16-story building beside you. When we’re talking from our security people’s perspective, they don’t like anything that’s taller than we are,” says Inspector Killbery.

The third option presented to council was the empty lot on the corner of Park Avenue and Biggar Place, next door to the Liquor Warehouse.

This site would be big enough for a joint-use facility to sit on and include enough space for a training yard and secure RCMP parking.

Public Works knows very little about what the condition of the site is underground. This makes it impossible to say how difficult it would be to develop, and like the second option, its not clear that the owners of the property would want to sell it.

The fourth, and last, option is on the corner of McBride Street and Second Avenue, where the Dairy Queen used to be, as well as the adjoining empty lot.

If it’s built in a big L-shape that wraps around the credit union, the lot is big enough to for a joint-use building to sit on and it also has the added bonus of actually being for sale.

The con for the site is that it’s a big pit that would either need to be filled or the design would have to include a basement. There is also a public lane with utilities running underneath to be considered.

This is the Fire Department’s least favourite option because of its location on two very busy streets. This would make getting their equipment in and out of the property difficult with so much traffic.