Prince Rupert’s new emergency building wouldn’t be ready to use for over two years

The architect helping Prince Rupert council with the emergency building issue says once approved it wouldn't be ready to use for 2.5 years.

If plans for a new emergency building in Prince Rupert were approved today, it still wouldn’t be ready for the RCMP or the Fire Department to actually move in for almost two-and-a-half years.

That’s according to Witmar Abele, the architect the City of Prince Rupert hired to guide them through the pre-planning phase of constructing a new emergency building. Abele – who is experienced in the designing of emergency buildings – estimates that the process of designing the actual building to meet the RCMP’s, the city’s and possibly the fire department’s needs and standards would take the better part of a year.

“Of course, that process can vary wildly in the time required, but 34 weeks is not uncommon. It’s three-quarters of a year to get from the earliest schematic design to the point where we could actually put the project out to bidding,” Abele told council at the third meeting on the emergency building issue held last Monday.

Once the project is ready to be bid on by the contractors who want to build it, Abele estimates that it would still be almost 90 weeks before the building is ready to be occupied.

“Once the construction phase has begun, a year-and-a-half is again not uncommon. There are many factors that influence the time required for the construction phase, such as whether or not the contractor gets into winter construction or other things that might slow it down,” says Abele.

Abele was asked by a member of the public if this time line took into account Prince Rupert’s notoriously rainy weather. He said it did.

Council had some questions of their own, with many councillors balking at the the timeline for the project. Councillor Anna Ashley asked Abele why it would take 34 weeks just to put a design together.

“Designing a building such as an RCMP station, Fire Hall or possibly both of them together is a highly complex process. The schematic design alone would easily take six to eight weeks to get through the process, it involved consultations with the user groups. Adjustments are made to the design, it goes back and forth, six weeks goes by in a heartbeat,” explains Abele.

Councillor Gina Garon asked if they could shorten the process by using an already existing building design from another community. Abele says that building designs are made specifically for the needs of the user groups and the property the building sits on. So unless the Cty can find a location with the exact same geography, and a design that meets the exact same needs of the RCMP and the Fire Department, such an idea was not feasible.

The recently negotiated deal between the provincial government and the RCMP has also shortened the time the City has to make a decision on the emergency building issue.

In the new deal, the RCMP only has to send two letters of notice before the province can build them a new station and send the bill to the city. It used to be three letters. With one letter sent by the RCMP already last year, Prince Rupert is effectively out of time when it comes to the RCMP building, and renovating the existing one doesn’t promise to save much – if any – money when compared to building a new one.

This has lead some councillors to conclude that the best course of action is to handle the RCMP’s needs first and that the fire department will have to wait.

“In reality we have a RCMP building that doesn’t meet the standards whether we like it or not. I don’t think we are going to find a site in Prince Rupert big enough to house both the RCMP and the fire department …As far as renovating goes it just doesn’t make sense,” says Councillor Garon.

Before the designs on a new building can even be started, the City will need to get approval from residents so it can borrow the millions of dollars required. Exactly how many millions won’t be known until the plans are done but a professional estimate will be drawn up to be used in the referendum.

City staff have suggested that such a referendum should take place sometime next November, with the referendum question being submitted to the provincial government for approval in September.

City council also has the option to side-step the referendum process altogether, in which case 10 per cent of Prince Rupert’s residents would have to sign a petition to force one.