Timeline begins to take shape for work on Okanagan jail

Correctional centre could bring upgrades to Highway 97 and higher caseload for Penticton courthouse

The MLA for the Boundary Similkameen hopes the business plan for the jail to be built on the Osoyoos Indian Band land will be complete in three months.

MLA John Slater said he spoke with the minister last week to get an update on the business plan and timing of when the design phase could get started.

“If we drag it out three or four years that is kind of silly, so we are trying to get the business plan together and ideally we would like to start construction early in 2013,” said Slater.

“Whether that is possible, well, it’s going to be tough but we are working on it. We want to make sure we do it once and do it right, but between the Osoyoos Indian Band, Okanagan College and federal and provincial government, we are all trying to make this thing happen as reasonably quick as possible.”

Slater said in the update given by the minister he was told it will take 60 to 90 days for the business plan to be complete. Once that is finished, it will identify the timelines. The next phase is to have design work done and then it will go out to tender for the contract to build.

“We all want to get it going. The prison is not only just going to help the local economy with jobs. Those are going to spin off and keep the arenas open, the curling clubs open, the swimming pools, the hospital, the schools — that is the biggest part on this,” said Slater.

After the province announced the site selection in February, Public Safety Minister Shirley Bond said it takes about four years to build a correctional facility the size of the one proposed in the South Okanagan. She suggested the province would be “pushing the envelope” to get it complete by 2015 and it would more likely be early 2016.

Slater said the Ministry of Highways and Infrastructure has looked at the intersection at Senkulmen Enterprise Park and deemed that the area would not need any realignment due to traffic generated by the jail. But, Slater said, there is four-lane construction work that is being looked at north of MacIntyre Bluff. Work to improve the safety at the Vaseux Lake corner and another just south of Gallagher Lake is also being considered. A land transaction or swap with a private landowner would need to take place at the Gallagher Lake corner.

Upon the completion of the jail at Senkulmen Enterprise Park, it is suspected that more court time would be needed in Penticton to deal with cases. Premier Christy Clark previously told the Western News that she could not confirm that with the announcement of the jail being built in the South Okanagan would mean the Penticton courthouse would expand. The province did, however, appoint one new judge, Gregory Korturbash, to Penticton in February.

Clark also announced in February that the province is launching a reform initiative to address the lack of effectiveness in B.C.’s justice system by conducting a complete review. B.C. spends over $1 billion annually on its public safety and justice system, but crime has declined at a faster rate than in any other province.

The premier said it is an average of six times a person has to go to court before a trial and that is just one aspect that needs to be investigated in how to lower that to free up time of sheriffs, judges and the courts. Clark said during this review period all courthouses in the province, including Penticton, would be investigated for inefficiencies and recommendations on how to improve them.