Citizens approve proposed loan for new North Cowichan RCMP building

Plans for a new $48-million North Cowichan RCMP station are moving ahead now that the majority of voters are not opposing the project.

North Cowichan council voted unanimously Wednesday in favour of a bylaw authorizing a loan for the three-storey, 50,000-square-foot facility. The new facility will replace the cramped, out-of-date 40-year-building now being used by police. It is designed to last 50 years.

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Construction is expected to begin in January, allowing the building to open in October 2022, said Mark Frame, North Cowichan’s general manager of financial and protective Services.

Mayor Al Siebring, who has been on council since 2008, said he is pleased a new building is coming, adding it was clear the facility needed to be replaced when he toured it in 2009.

“There was overcrowding issues then. There was clearly mold issues then. We hadn’t discovered the rats yet — that came later.”

A provincial stamp of approval is still required.

The municipality chose to run an alternative approval process — permitted under provincial legislation — for the borrowing plan, rather than going to a more expensive referendum.

Under the alternative approval process, at least 10 per cent of 26,916 eligible voters must be opposed for the plan to fail.

In this case, 1,364 electoral response forms opposing the project were received by Tuesday’s deadline. Of those, 130 were rejected, which meant a total of 4.6 per cent of electors were opposed, staff said.

Reasons for rejection included forms without signatures, forms from residents outside the municipality, and duplicates, staff told council.

Siebring noted that even if all forms had been accepted, the response would still have fallen short of 10 per cent.

In response to a question from Coun. Christopher Justice, Siebring said alternative approval process initiatives have failed in the past, including a borrowing bid in the Cowichan area for an aquatic centre six years ago and a Ladysmith land use plan.

He noted that the 10 per cent threshold is set by the province.

Coun. Debra Toporowski cautioned against delaying the project, saying it could lead to “astronomical” costs.

The new facility will result in about a four per cent tax increase for property owners, phased in between 2021 to 2024.

North Cowichan is planning a 20-year loan with a phased-in $71 tax increase per average home. The tax increase would be eliminated once the loan is paid off.

The current plan would cost the average property owner an additional $3 in 2021, $32 in 2022, $33 in 2023 and then $3 in 2024.

The amounts could be phased in earlier if the building schedule moves ahead more quickly than expected, said Frame.

North Cowichan will take out the loan but will share the cost.

The municipality is covering 40 per cent of the cost, while the remaining 60 per cent comes from the RCMP, including money collected by the city of Duncan and the Cowichan Valley Regional District for policing. The province of B.C. will pay for the portion of the building related to Duncan.

The new building is planned on municipal land at the corner of Ford and Drinkwater roads, across from the Cowichan Commons Shopping Centre.

When the existing RCMP building went up, it was designed for 30 personnel. Today, 85 people work out of the current facility.

A municipal staff report said the building has come to the end of its useful life — infrastructure is failing, the building is susceptible to annual floods, it needs major security upgrades, and jail cells do not meet provincial and federal standards.

The new building will consolidate services and operations now located elsewhere. It will include South Island Traffic Services and Forensic Identification Services, in addition to the North Cowichan/Duncan detachment plus support staff. Integrating services and resources will lead to more effective policing and increased operating efficiency, the report said.

Complex and expensive components in the new structure will include new cells and improved security standards.

“The building will be built to high operational standards, but will not be luxurious,” the report said.

North Cowichan is using a process called agent construction management, which will see the construction manager co-ordinate a design team with multiple consultants and trades, Frame said. Construction contracts will be tendered throughout the process.

The team includes project manager LMNTS Project Services Inc., architect is KMBR Architects Planners Inc., and construction management by Unitech Construction Management Ltd.

North Cowichan’s facility follows a design being used in a new RCMP building in Fort St. John, which results in cost savings. Environmentally friendly features include solar panels on the roof. It will be net-zero-ready, meaning that you put back as much energy into use.

North Cowichan resident Allen Willcocks, retired quantity surveyor and cost consultant, said he is disappointed in the result of the alternative approval process, saying he would have preferred a referendum on a project of this size.

Willcocks says $30 million would be a more reasonable cost for the facility, after comparing the cost per square foot of the project to five other RCMP stations.

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