We devoted space in this corner last week to city council’s approval of a $24,000 expenditure to complete the Phase 2 environmental assessment underway at the Colin McGregor Justice Building, home of the St. Thomas Police Service.
A couple of days later the Times-Journal ran a photo of the coal gasification plant previously housed on the site and accompanied it with the cheeky headline, “City’s dirty little secret coming out.”
The story prompted a lengthy discussion Thursday with Ald. Mark Cosens, an outspoken proponent of refurbishing the justice building, in lieu of construction of a new police headquarters on city-owned land at the Timken Centre.
Cosens concedes the results of the study are pretty much a foregone conclusion – it won’t be a pretty picture – but that in itself should not preclude proceeding with upgrades to the existing police headquarters.
“We know there is coal tar in there,” Cosens noted in our phone conversation.
“But there’s nothing we can do about it unless we try and dig something out. But that isn’t the practice on these things. It’s usually to cap it and monitor it.
“But it’s being bandied about as the reason to go build a new police station. There’s no concern there that we didn’t know about. Or we’re keeping secrets that we can maintain the police station that is there.”
Locating an industry such as a gasification plant in the downtown core is not unique to St. Thomas, as Cosens points out.
“Every city had industrial sections that now house residences. That is the nature of growth in our society. It’s an old site that was buried a long time ago. And of course people did things back then without knowing the consequences.”
So, Cosens stresses, contaminated soil and groundwater samples should come as no surprise and, in themselves, do not provide sufficient ammunition to proceed with a new, purpose-built facility.
“Let’s do some simple rearranging on the inside (of the existing structure), get the court area in our fold and that’s going to help us out for the next five or ten years. If that was a million dollars, that would be a lot.
“The police station is a warm topic at the very least. We’ve got big-picture stuff to consider. Spending $20 million and the interest payments solely on the ratepayers isn’t something we can come close to bearing at this point in time. There’s a lot of infrastructure we could concern ourselves with that need it more than that.”
But, what if the report to council in the new year from Conestoga Rovers presents a damning picture of the on-site contamination, wouldn’t that dictate consideration of a new site for the police headquarters?
“I suppose there is that minute chance. There’s contamination there, we know about it. It’s been there since before we built the last police station on that site. We certainly weren’t opposed to environmental studies to make sure nothing is migrating anywhere.
“Certainly public safety and the safety of the staff at the library and the police station are a primary concern. We are going to have to live with the mistakes of the past, cap it over, which has been done. The main problem isn’t anywhere near the building, it’s more under the parking garages of the (former) PUC building, I think.”
“There have been test bore holes there for decades. There certainly is no indication, unless fearmongering takes over, that any of this stuff is going to become toxic to anybody in that area. Certainly, doing some interior renovations at the Colin McGregor Justice Building – moving some walls around, re-wiring and painting and bringing in new office dividers – there is just no connection.”
And that, Cosens advises, is his personal justification for leading the renovate camp on city council.
Somehow, we just can’t fathom some coats of paint and new office dividers are going to maintain the justice building as a viable, long-term headquarters for the police service.
PROUD TO WEAR IT
Seems my Christmas rant last week struck a chord in the right place as a pair of spiffy “It’s OK to say Merry Christmas to me” buttons landed on my desk.
Thanks to Mike Butler and the Knights of Columbus for providing me with visual support. I have proudly sported the buttons all week.
And, I am pleasantly surprised at the number of people who have taken the time to wish me a Merry Christmas.
Now, that is the true spirit of the season.
A CHRISTMAS WISH FOR YOU
And, on that note, as this is the last get together before Tuesday’s celebration of Christmas, we put forth the following gift suggestions for you to distribute in appropriate fashion.
To your enemy, forgiveness. To an opponent, tolerance. To a friend, your heart. To a customer, service. To all, charity. To every child, a good example. To yourself, respect.
And, to all faithful City Scope readers, especially those with birthdays at this hectic time of year, when their special day too often is lost in the hustle and bustle of the season – may this Christmas bring you peace, health and happiness.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“I admire them for civil disobedience and this is really important because, if you had talked to any of these people, it’s not about money, it’s about bullying.”
Thames Valley District School Board trustee James Todd on site at a picket line set up Thursday in St. Thomas by elementary school teachers.
City Scope appears Saturday in the Times-Journal. Questions and comments may be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I think Alderman Cosens has some very valid points. I stand to be corrected, but I didn’t think that environmental assessments were done when renovating an existing building. I thought they were only done when new construction and ground excavations were being done. I don’t remember an environmental assessment being ordered when they were renovating the library. I had been wondering all along if the assessments were being done only to further the argument for a new police station because the findings of an environmental assessment on the present site are, like Alderman Cosens has stated, not going to be a surprise to anyone. If council is going to use the results of the study as the reason (excuse) to build a new headquarters on a new site, I would have preferred they saved the thousands of dollars of tax payers’ money that the assessment cost and instead use the money to perhaps afford better quality construction and finishings than were used at the Timken Center.