A facility that will provide an enormous economic boost to the Town of Oliver – and entire South Okanagan – for generations to come was officially opened in grand style Friday morning.
Five years after the provincial government announced the first new correctional centre to be built in B.C. in 15 years would be constructed on Osoyoos Indian Band (OIB) land in the Sunkulmen Business Park five kilometres north of the Town of Oliver, new Okanagan Correctional Centre (OCC) warden Steve DiCastri was handed the keys to the impressive $200-million facility Friday morning.
Dozens of correctional officers who have been hired to work at the OCC were on hand as were correctional officers from across the province.
On hand for the grand opening ceremony were B.C.’s Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Morris, Boundary-Similkameen MLA Linda Larson, Oliver Mayor Ron Hovanes, Leona Baptiste, who was representing the OIB, and numerous other dignitaries.
Hovanes said the positive economic impact that has already been created through the construction phase of the OCC has been immense and those benefits will continue for generations to come as many of the 240 correctional officers that have been hired and 60 support staff have chosen to live in Oliver.
“We’ve already been given a big (economic) boost and the opening of this centre can only enhance this,” said Hovanes.
There has been an increase of students into local schools and local business owners have commented on the increase in sales since construction started, he said.
The correctional officers and support staff who will live and work in Oliver will continue to provide benefits to this community and others in the South Okanagan for decades to come, he said.
“They are your new neighbours and they will become your new friends,” he said. “We are looking forward to the positive effects from all of you who are involved in this facility.”
The ceremony celebrated the formal turning over of B.C.’s biggest correctional centre to the provincial government after construction was completed in September.
Following system testing and on-site staff training, BC Corrections expects to begin moving inmates into the 29,500 square metre, high-security facility by the middle of January.
The centre will house male and female, remanded and sentenced inmates, with one of its 11 living units exclusively for women.
The OCC is B.C.’s 10th provincial correctional centre and was developed as a result of a historic agreement between the Province and the OIB – the first of its kind to see a new jail located in First Nation’s land, said Morris.
This agreement includes a 60-year land lease with a 20-year renewal option.
The grand opening ceremony kicked off a series of free public tours that started Friday and continued Saturday, Sunday and Monday. Two more days of tours have been added this coming Saturday and Sunday, with more than 3,000 members of the public having signed up to tour the facility, said DiCastri.
Morris agreed the OCC would reap positive economic benefits for the Town of Oliver and entire South Okanagan for generations to come.
“The completion of the OCC is a win for all British Columbians,” he said. “It expands, yet again, the capacity of BC Corrections to safely manage inmates, deliver programming that helps to curb reoffending, and contribute to the safety of our communities.
“As a modern, high-security centre, it will also support the safety of its staff and the surrounding area. Thanks to both the Osoyoos Indian Band and builders Plenary Justice for their vision, commitment, and partnership with us, which have contributed so much to public safety in B.C. and to the economy of the South Okanagan.”
Larson echoed the same sentiments.
“The completion of construction is just the beginning of the good news for our area,” she said. “BC Corrections employees are moving here with their families and as they do, we’re seeing more housing sales and starts, new retailers setting up shop and more youth now attending our schools.”
Close to 100 staff are already working at the centre, focusing on readying the facility for full operations and over the next three months, classes of 24 correctional officers will start every two weeks for training, said DiCastri.
Only two remaining positions need to be filled and approximately 50 staff and their families have relocated to the region, bringing 45 school-aged children to Oliver, Osoyoos and Penticton, he said.
Hovanes said the economic and social benefits created by the opening of this facility will be felt in Oliver and the South Okanagan for generations to come.
“The OCC is proving to be the gift that keeps on giving,” he said. “Construction was good for our economy, the jobs in the centre will be around for decades to come and the people who are taking up those good-paying positions are upstanding and community-minded.
“They’re the kind of folks who help build community and I want to extend a warm welcome to them as they continue to arrive and take up their new posts.”
The programs and services offered to inmates at the OCC are impressive and will ensure the majority of them can attain the job skills needed to look for quality jobs once their time is completed, said Larson.
Morris said the Chief Clarence Louie and the OIB, as well as the Town of Oliver, have bee wonderful partners from the very beginning of this project and their assistance and co-operation played a key role in ensuring the facility was built on time and on budget.
Leona Baptiste, a longtime band council member with the OIB, said Louie and the entire council are very proud to have played a leading role in ensuring B.C.’s newest and largest prison was built for the first time on First Nations land.
Many OIB members landed jobs working on the construction phase and others have landed jobs working at the OCC, she said.
“The positive economic impact … will benefit the South Okanagan for generations to come,” she said. “We’re all looking forward to new jobs and new families moving tour community.”
Stephanie McPherson, the provincial director of adult supervision for BC Corrections, said the opening of this new facility would expand inmate capacity across the B.C. interior and the entire province.
The focus for correctional officers and senior management would be to not only to safely house inmates, but provide quality services and training and job skills they can use once they finish their sentences and look for work in communities across the province, she said.
DiCastri ended the ceremony saying his staff would work hard to make a positive impact in this region and in the lives of inmates they are working with.
“We will all work very hard and become part of the community,” he said. “Our employees will be leaders and role models … and I know they will be leaders for years to come.”