It could cost $60 million or more to renovate and expand the Abbotsford Police Department’s headquarters – and that’s the cheaper of two options to address overcrowding that has left the force using six different facilities spread across the city.
Abbotsford’s police headquarters is much too small for the existing force and has no space to accommodate the APD as it grows alongside the community it serves, council heard Monday. Hallways are increasingly packed with stored gear, lockers cannot fit officers’ equipment, and the jail is sub-standard and often full. The issues have increasingly forced the department to turn to other make-shift locations around Abbotsford.
The city has been considering a solution for years, and on Monday former city manager George Murray – who continued working on the project after his retirement two years ago – presented two options to the city.
Neither was cheap, but council chose to pursue an expansion of the current building instead of the construction of a whole new headquarters. A new HQ would have cost roughly $85 million, Murray and a team of consultants, architects and engineers estimated. Renovating and expanding the current building is estimated to cost about $59 million, although both those figures are broad estimates that could rise or fall by as much as 20 per cent.
The next step will be to refine the cost of a renovated and expanded headquarters and continue designing and planning work.
But Abbotsford residents will likely have the final say on whether the project will proceed as envisioned.
Staff have yet to recommend a precise funding formula, but they told council that financing the project is likely to see the city turn primarily to a combination of long-term debt and capital reserves. While it was suggested other “creative funding opportunities” might be possible, grants for such projects are limited. Borrowing money for the project would require residents to approve such a loan through a referendum.
The existing headquarters dates back to 1988, when it served the Matsqui Police Department. That force had 74 officers at the time.
The Abbotsford Police Department, which was created after the amalgamation of Matsqui and the District of Abbotsford, now has triple that number of officers. Over the 20 years, it’s expected to add 100 more officers and civilian staff.
Already, Murray said the APD is “robbing Peter to pay Paul in terms of space.”
The suggested new four-storey addition would include two levels of parking, new jails, additional office and desk space, annd new washrooms and change rooms. The wall between the male and female change rooms could also be adjusted as the demographics of the force’s officers change.
The proposed addition would nearly triple the floor space of the current two-storey headquarters (although some of that space includes the parkade).
Police chief Mike Serr endorsed the suggested addition. He said the department recently received funding for new hires. But finding just where they would work was proving a challenge.
“We can’t figure out where to put the additional staff,” he said. A new building, he said, “is going to allow us to be prepared for the challenges we’re facing today, but also the future.”
Asked by Coun. Les Barkman whether the building would give the force enough room to grow, Murray said:
“We don’t want to overbuild, but we don’t want to underbuild. I think the feasible study has found a nice sweet spot.”
Coun. Patricia Ross declared the new building overdue, and said it was an investment both in a new building, and in the officers who police Abbotsford.
“It’s an incredibly stressful job as it is, but when their own workplace – their second home – is so cramped and stressful, it just adds to that,” Ross said. “I think it’s the least we can do to make this place as comfortable and stress-free as we possibly can.”
Braun, meanwhile, pointed to the increased efficiency that will result from bringing more officers under a single roof. He said new standards for jails would otherwise require the costly renovation of that facility, if a new building doesn’t get built, and added that the city was in a better position to deal with the cost of the new building than when it was first considered.