When a working toilet becomes a luxury

You have to admire the patience of St. Thomas Police Chief Darryl Pinnell, who calmly answered a bevy of questions Thursday during an accessibility tour of the Colin McGregor Justice Building.
The walk-through of all three floors — including the lock-up area — proved an eye-opener in several regards. The structure is a daunting challenge for anyone with accessibility issues and the floor space available on the now-vacant second floor likely cannot be considered functional for police use without significant modifications
Designing work areas around the two large courtrooms remaining intact surely must be a design challenge.
There is not one single accessible washroom in the building, the one elevator is in the centre of the structure and originates in the jail area and even the existing main floor is a cluttered maze.

Putting those aside, the main takeaway from the tour was the absolute loss of focus.

Typical of the washrooms throughout the Colin McGregor Justice Building . . . virtually inaccessible to anyone in a wheelchair.

Typical of the washrooms throughout the Colin McGregor Justice Building . . . virtually inaccessible to anyone in a wheelchair.

It was clearly evident Thursday that finding a healthy and functional home for the police service — be it through adequate renovations to their existing headquarters or construction of a new facility — is no longer a prime concern to some individuals.
This is now all about political aspirations — advancing a personal political agenda as we approach the October municipal vote.
And, the needs of the men and women of the police service are of little consequence.
The dignity and independence of any individual with an impairment — be it physical, medical, visual or hearing — take a back seat to the egos of certain aldermen seeking re-election.
Even if you were able to grapple a wheelchair through the main door, the cubicle itself will halt your progress.

Even if you were able to grapple a wheelchair through the main door, the cubicle itself will halt your progress.

Aldermen willing to bend and twist the findings of not one but three consultant’s reports. How many reports, studies and processes will ratepayers have to commission before these members find one they like?
Aldermen hell bent on turning a blind eye to building codes and functional space needs. Load up on some drywall, a few cans of paint, used furniture — from an out-of-town business no less — and we’ll have you a good-as-new police station in a couple of weekends.
Aldermen who feel no shame in short-shifting the basic requirements of “those people” as individuals with accessibility issues are now referred to.
When are these elected representatives going to awaken to the fact those with disabilities are not second-class citizens. How they vote can benefit or do as much damage to your political career as the ballot cast by any other ratepayer.
In any other office, the shortcomings experienced Thursday would have been noted and filed as grievances years ago.
But as Chief Pinnell duly noted, the men and women of the St. Thomas Police Service are not noted for complaining.
Or, to paraphrase one member of the service; I don’t want anything fancy . . . I don’t need a Taj Mahal. I just want a toilet I don’t have to flush four times.
Apparently for some aldermen, even that is asking for too much.

To those members of city council who have yet to grasp the importance of treating individuals with disabilities in the same fashion as any other resident of St. Thomas, perhaps a review of the city’s Corporate Accessibility Policy — effective Nov. 12, 2013 — is in order.
The policy is also a must-read for any person seeking to win a seat on council.
“The City is committed to implementing, maintaining and enhancing accessibility with respect to delivery of services to customers and employees and for the use of all City goods and services, programs and facilities by the persons with disabilities in a manner that:
• Respects each person’s dignity and independence and is sensitive to their individual needs
• Ensures reasonable efforts are made to provide service outcomes that would be the same for persons with disabilities as for those without disabilities
• Allows persons with disabilities to benefit from the same services, in the same place, in a similar way to others, and in a timely manner, considering the nature of the service and accommodations required.”
So, informing a visitor to any municipal building they cannot proceed beyond the front lobby because of their disability or restricting a physically-challenged employee to certain work areas in no way respects that person’s dignity and independence.

To help defuse the hyper-charged police building debate, why not package up all relevant info regarding building options, police service needs, square footage requirements, pricing as it becomes available, consultant recommendations, building code considerations and the like on a neutral website for public dissemination.
Perhaps the St. Thomas & District Chamber of Commerce website might be a possibility.
That way there can be no accusations of bias, misleading information or false claims.
And wretched gossip columnists would not be able to hijack the process.

What are the odds of Ald. Jeff Kohler and city developer Bob McCaig holidaying in the Turks and Caicos Islands at the very same time?
My, what a small world we live in.

After contacting the campaign office of Liberal hopeful Serge Lavoie, we need a clarification.
Is Ald. Lori-Baldwin Sands campaign co-chairman or simply a volunteer? This corner has received confirmation of both scenarios.

“I hope to see a council that embraces a people-first approach to issues relating to the business of the city.”
Aldermanic candidate Todd Rowley speaking to the Times-Journal this past week.

City Scope appears Saturday in the Times-Journal. Questions and comments may be emailed to ian.mccallum@sunmedia.ca.

3 thoughts on “When a working toilet becomes a luxury

  1. Ian, I think you’re losing your perspective on this police building issue. I don’t believe that all city buildings are completely accessible to everyone. It’s an ongoing process to make them that way and it takes time. Little by little they will get there and little by little I think a renovated police building would get there too. It’s obvious you want a new building, but it used to be that it didn’t matter which side of an issue you were on, in the past you always let your quick wit make it seem like you didn’t really have a bias. You always, through humour usually, took a swipe at both sides when they took themselves too seriously. I wouldn’t go so far as to call your column a “gossip” column, but absolutely one-sided it is. We all understand that the police need more space and more up to date facilities. No one is arguing that point. And I do realize you are entitled to your opinion and your column is a reflection of that opinion. But everyone has an opinion and is entitled to it. I wasn’t at the accessibility meeting, but I’m almost certain that there isn’t an alderman out there who for one moment would think that the police were lucky to have toilets at all and shouldn’t be complaining that they take four flushes…your headline infers that. Just as an aside, my own toilet at home will take a couple of flushes now that we have “improved” things with our environmentally friendly “low flush” toilets. It’s my opinion that there is indeed political agendas on BOTH sides…those that are willing to spend our tax dollars on a new building and those that aren’t willing to do so. Neither side is ever going to admit what their real agenda is and I just hate to turn on my computer and know what you’re going to have to say before I read it. Where’s the old Ian, the one who would normally tell us how it wasn’t just me thinking I had to adjust the colour on my tv during this week’s council meeting because both the mayor and Alderman Kohler’s complexions were the colour of cherry tomatoes and how Alderman Barwick’s facial expressions and supposed calming voice can’t hide the little gem he thinks he has hidden up his sleeve when requesting an old report about the Timken Centre. Come on Ian! Your column used to be laced with quick wit and humour…and facts. I miss you.


  2. Ellen: Many thanks for your critique. My position on the police station is as follows. When council began the RFP process for a new station, they should have put an upper cost limit on the project as suggested by city engineer John Dewancker. An upper build limit of $10 million was in place for the new health unit and the staff and management ended up with a beautiful, functional building that came in under budget.

    If no bidder can meet this limit or council votes against proceeding because of the cost then the existing home should be renovated to meet all existing building and accessibility code standards to allow the police to work in a safe, healthy environment. If the city doesn’t meet these standards, it will be mandated by the province in the future so why not act in a proactive fashion. This has been the history of this city – Band-aid solutions.

    And I agree both factions on council have lost perspective of the matter at hand and this is compounded by the fact it is an election year and there is a lot of jockeying for position instead of dealing with an issue that has dragged on for more than 20 years.

    As for losing my sense of humour, this past week I undertook our third accessibility challenge and, quite frankly, the city has progressed little in upgrading standards of its own buildings to meet the needs of those with accessibility its. And, the working conditions in the police station are deteriorating over time. Last year sewage pipes broke on at least two occasions flooding parts of the building, including offices and locker rooms, with raw effluent.

    Given these two factors, I quite honestly cannot inject any amount of humour into the debate. Everyone involved deserves better than that.

    I encourage you to call Chief Darryl Pinnell and have him tour you through the building yourself. Several interested individuals have already done this to better educate themselves – no matter which side of the debate they stand.

    Again, I reiterate, it find it unsettling to inject quick wit and humour when writing about individuals dealing with an accessibility issue – be it vision, hearing, medical or mobility. It simply is not a laughing matter.

    I apologize for disappointing you in this regard and fully understand if you choose to stop reading.



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