Tofino’s new police detachment will move ahead despite concerns about its design and location.
The designs for the roughly $10 million building were made available to the public in November but went seemingly unnoticed until being posted to social media several days after Tofino’s council had approved the project on Dec. 8.
As images circulated online, locals began clamouring against the new building’s appropriateness for its 400 Campbell St. site and the outcry motivated council to call a meeting with the RCMP.
That meeting was held on Feb. 3 and included the building’s senior project manager Fiona Wright, the RCMP’s regional strategic planning manager Shaleena Meghji and local detachment commander Sgt. Blaine Mumford.
Meghji said Tofino’s detachment has been in the upgrade-queue for several years.
“The police officers who serve your community just don’t have the space in order to do their work,” she said adding the province would cover 70 per cent of the new building’s cost and the RCMP would cover the remaining 30 per cent.
She said the RCMP is hoping to gain provincial approval for the building and put the project out to tender by the end of March but if the process were delayed, a new detachment wouldn’t be possible until 2022 because of the RCMP’s funding cycle system.
“We’d like to see Tofino go forward but if it doesn’t, for whatever reason, it probably won’t be up for consideration until the end of cycle-two because the cycle-two detachments have already been identified,” she said.
“The questions that the province would have is, ‘Well, if there are questions about the Tofino detachment and the need for it then perhaps we need to look at the overall need for it,’ because there’s certainly a long list of provincial detachments in British Columbia that are in need of replacement.”
Coun. Greg Blanchette noted the RCMP’s collaboration with the province and asked if Tofino had a voice at the table.
Meghji suggested the building was up to those footing the bill.
“The approvals come down to who’s paying for it,” she said. “It’s the province and the RCMP who are funding this project.”
She suggested Tofino’s district office was “heavily involved” in the building’s design throughout the process and an open house in November covered community engagement.
Coun. Cathy Thicke said it was “distressing” that the $10 million price tag didn’t include stronger consultation and added she was surprised when she first saw the designs in November.
“We’re going to look at this building for 50 years. I would have thought that somehow in that process there would have been a portion of the budget that might have included a bit more public process knowing the nature of Tofino,” she said.
“Architecture in our town is quite well defined and architecture is not a neutral statement in a really small town. It’s a very strong statement and I was personally a little bit flabbergasted when I saw the design and the form.”
Thicke acknowledged Tofino needs a new detachment but questioned the design of the one being presented.
“I’m very, very, well familiar with the shortcomings of [the current] building but I’m just putting up that flag that this is a huge project, the design and form of this building is a huge departure from what we have now in a very significant part of our town, not just for residents but for tourists as well,” she said.
“We’re on the world’s stage and so this building, in a very small community, has a very large impact.”
Project manager Fiona Wright said she was disappointed by Thicke’s suggestion that the RCMP’s consultation was inadequate.
“We were trying to go above and beyond, so it’s really disheartening to hear you say that,” she said. “Normally, for lots of federal departments they don’t consult anybody. They say, ‘It’s our land, we’ll do whatever we want,’ and we were purposefully trying to go almost to the other extreme. I don’t think there’s ever been an open house for a community.”
Coun. Dorothy Baert said the design did not fit into the site’s Development Permit Area (DPA), which stipulates buildings should comply with a small town, rural, coastal themed character and complement existing buildings in form and scale.
“It’s very challenging to have this conversation, because basically we’ve got a bit of an axe over our heads in a way. If we say this isn’t right you’re going to take it away and not come back for ten years and that makes us bad citizens for not supporting the RCMP,” she said adding the aesthetic of Tofino’s downtown lots are important.
“They are the defining properties of who we are as a community, how we see ourselves and how we speak to the world about who we are.”
Meghji said relocation was not an option as the detachment must be close to the water to serve Ahousaht.
Wright said she went off-script from the RCMP’s building templates to fit the new detachment into the local landscape
“I actually got a little bit of flack for veering away from that because we wanted it to fit more in with here and not be a cookie-cutter approach,” Wright said. “If you had of got the standard one, it wouldn’t look nearly as nice.”
Sgt. Mumford agreed.
“You guys are getting something that’s far nicer and I understand there are different points of view on whether it fits or not with Tofino but that’s very subjective,” he said.
He added achieving a design the entire community could agree on would be impossible.
“Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think this can happen but say there was a wholesale change, I think once you put it out there again you’d have a similar sized group again saying, ‘I don’t know, it doesn’t really fit,’” he said.
District CAO Bob MacPherson suggested the building did fit into the DPA.
“It’s very rare that you find something that fits every single guideline that you have and I would actually argue that a detachment that’s designed for a small town, and that fits in the needs of a small town police department, is a small town building,” MacPherson said.
“This has been designed to provide the policing service for a small town. It might not be the small town that we wish we were but this is currently where we are and this is how the policing needs get met. This is the building that’s needed to meet our policing needs.”