Police’s new administrative building is up and running, but only a temporary fix to a much bigger problem

The Stratford Police Service (SPS) has long needed more space – and more appropriate space at that.

In fact, police chief Greg Skinner told the accessibility advisory committee at its May 7 meeting that it goes back longer than one might expect.

“I can go back and find minutes back as far as 1991,” Skinner said. “When they (the police services board) were talking about a new police station … 17 George St. is not a building that was meant to be or was built to be barrier free – and to get there is going to be a challenge.”

Though progress has been slow going so far, in recent months much progress has been made.

Just this month, SPS revealed a new administrative hub located at 798 Erie St., just behind the Ford dealership.

The new location is primarily for back-office support and “alternate” reporting work. Front-line policing is still conducted out of 17 George St.

Freedom of Information requests, copies of reports, pardons, file destruction, taxi licences and record checks are being done at the new location, though record checks may also be done online as well.

The new location is also barrier-free, Skinner told the committee, and that was one of the reasons the site was identified and ultimately pursued by police.

The Erie Street location is not a permanent solution, Skinner assured the committee. They have a five-year lease at the building and, in the future, the police services board still wants policing done at their downtown location at 17 George St., all under one roof.

In November, the board approved discussion on a new police station, be that a completely new facility or a renovation of the current location.

Since that decision, the board has honed in on adapting the current station for their purposes. An engineering report conducted but not yet released to the public has identified land on the station’s property suitable for expansion.

A possible renovation is many years away, but under the deadlines of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), public buildings in Ontario are expected to be accessible and barrier-free by 2025, a fast-approaching deadline.

To get the building compliant on time, Stratford city council approved a $200,000 capital project in this year’s budget to construct an accessibility ramp.

Originally, the design was intended to be a permanent concrete structure, but with the future of the building in flux, council and staff thought it prudent to cut costs and construct a metal, temporary structure. The original cost was estimated to be $275,000.

Tim Wolfe, director of community services, and Mark Hackett, manager of community facilities, presented to the committee on the temporary ramp to be installed at the George Street location, which would finally make the location barrier-free.

Wolfe also pointed out that, if renovations on the building go through and a permanent ramp is constructed or even the main entrance be moved to a more accessible location, then the ramp may be disassembled and constructed elsewhere in the city.

“Unfortunately, in Stratford that is not the only building that we need to address,” Wolfe said. “We’re well aware of that.”

The project is in the design process, with a consultant retained by the City of Stratford making a final design. The consultant is aware of the requirements the city and the committee are requiring, Hackett said.

Hackett said a design will be finalized in the coming weeks and then a request for proposal can be issued.

Diane Sims, co-chair of the committee, has long been advocating for an accessible police station. She was thrilled with the news and that it is finally moving forward.

“Two years ago this month, I spoke to the police services board of my experience there,” Sims said. “I’m quite excited that this is happening, (to) get in there and get fingerprinted.”

Connor Luczka, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Stratford Times