What will eventually be Pod C of the Okanagan Correctional Centre is still not much more than a concrete shell.
Exposed metal beams crisscross the ceiling of the future cell block, and a line of sturdy doors ring the wall.
Open one of the doors and you’ll see a small concrete room with concrete bunks built into the wall and approximately 10-centimetre-high slats for windows. Aside from a stainless steel toilet and sink fastened to the opposite wall there’s not much else.
One year after ground was first broken on the project, the 36-acre site on Osoyoos Indian Band land is a sprawling construction site. Cranes loom against the sky and construction workers scurry around like purposeful ants.
According to Ted Howard, the provincial director and chief project officer, the new 300,000 square foot facility “has been designed to be state of the art.”
Plenary Justice Okanagan is the consortium selected to design, build, finance and maintain the centre over the life of the 30-plus-year contract. Other consortium members are the Plenary Group, PCL Constructors Westcoast and Honeywell.
According to PCL’s construction manager, Les Krusel, the project is running smoothly and on schedule to be completed Sept. 30, 2016.
Howard said inmates will likely start being moved into the facility in early 2017, leaving time for the newly hired correctional staff to “get to learn the building.”
The completed facility will contain 378 cells, each equipped to house two inmates (Howard said the total population of the prison will remain “dynamic” as inmates enter and exit the system).
Recently, the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen called for a study on how the prison will impact rural policing requirements in the South Okanagan.
“This will change the face of the rural Oliver area and is anticipated to have a significant impact on policing requirements,” said Bill Newell, the regional district’s chief administrative officer.
Oliver Mayor Ron Hovanes shares those concerns, and recently sent a letter to Justice Minister Suzanne Anton wanting assurances that Oliver won’t be on the hook for additional policing costs to service the prison.
He noted that a facility of this size may require up to four full-time officers to handle the police files.
Anton has previously told the Chronicle that the ministry does not anticipate increased pressure on local police resources when the prison becomes operational.
Touring the site May 21, Parliamentary Secretary Laurie Throness focused on the economic benefit the facility will bring to the region.
“It’s a $220 million project. That’s a big investment over a very short time bringing money into the local economy. I think the taxpayers of BC are getting a really good value here.”
Clarence Louie, the chief of the Osoyoos Indian Band, also toured the facility May 21 and echoed Throness’ statement.
“There’s not very many $200 million projects in Oliver and Osoyoos. They happen once a decade, if that, so this is a huge project not just for the Osoyoos Indian Band but for the entire Okanagan,” he said, adding that he was proud of the historic deal that led to the prison being built on native land.
So far, 13 contracts have been awarded to local businesses, worth a total of $115 million.
Construction of the facility will also create 500 direct jobs, and spawn 500 more indirect ones.
Krusel said that there are currently 150 on-site employees, and 50-60 more working off site. He said that number will likely “peak out” in the mid- 200s as his company brings in more tradespeople.
Once the facility is operational it will create 300 permanent jobs.
Howard said that the newly appointed warden for the facility, Steve DiCastri, has already begun hiring senior staff. Close to 1000 people have also turned up to information sessions to learn about careers in corrections.
“There’s a lot of jobs being created by this—and good jobs,” Throness said, noting that 40 per cent of those jobs are filled with people from the local area.
Once finished the new facility will more than double corrections capacity in BC’s Interior.
Special to the Chronicle