Childcare spaces disappear as the result of a ‘soft’ business case


city_scope_logo-cmykA total of 88 critically needed childcare spaces in the city have just evaporated into thin air. Along with the spaces, $2.6 million in provincial funding – in hand – now has to be returned as the city has been unable to not only complete the project, it hasn’t even put a shovel in the ground.
And ultimately, you have to double back to the comment from city developer Peter Ostojic, why is the city involved in building affordable housing units themselves?
Peter and his brother Joe have completed several affordable housing developments in St. Thomas and Aylmer.
“If the joint goal of our community is to provide as much affordable housing for people (as possible), it is important that the private sector be the primary delivery agent,” advised Peter more than a year ago.”
So, what have childcare spaces to do with affordable housing?
Let’s join the dots.
Phase 2 of the social services hub at 230 Talbot Street was to include additional affordable housing plus a childcare facility. Back in July of 2019, city manager Wendell Graves admitted the cost of construction per residential unit was projected to be “fairly high” at $290,515 per unit.

That cost was then estimated downward and ended up in the range of $225,000 per unit.
It still forced Graves to admit the business case for Phase 2 was “soft.” As you can see, no work has been undertaken on the second phase since that time.

St. Thomas Child CareThe soft business case necessitated moving the proposed childcare facility from Talbot Street into a standalone new home on St. Catharine Street, across from the former Colin McGregor Justice Building.
The city had received $2.6 million in funding for the childcare space, with the understanding it must be operational by December of 2020, something not possible with the delayed start on Phase 2.
Graves had advised, “we’re going to be doing a fresh business case looking at increasing the density” of housing in Phase 2.

“Given the order of magnitude for this project, it would be extremely unlikely that the project would be near substantial completion by the end of September.”

Meantime, the estimated cost of the childcare facility has escalated to at least $4 million.
That brings us to the agenda for Monday’s (April 12) council meeting where Graves recommends “the proposed childcare project on St. Catharine Street be cancelled and the funds returned to the province.”
Valuable dollars in hand for a much-needed service being handed back to the Doug Ford government.
What is disturbing in Graves’ report is no mention is made of his determination of the “soft” business case for Phase 2 of the social services hub.
Instead, Graves defers to, “It was determined that the timing for a second phase project, which was to include social housing, would not meet time constraints for the use of the funding at that location and in turn the project was shifted, with the approval of the province, to the parking lot on St. Catharine Street.”
It should be noted the province even cut the city some slack and extended the substantial completion date for the childcare centre to September of this year, in addition to the funding given while agreeing to a change in venue.
Graves notes in his report, “With regard to the requirement of substantial completion, at best if the project was tendered, we may be in the position to have a contractor on-site by early June. Given the order of magnitude for this project, it would be extremely unlikely that the project would be near substantial completion by the end of September.”
It would appear the city is embarking on a new path to address the housing issue with the signing of a memorandum of understanding this January with Indwell Community Homes to develop supportive housing projects.
Indwell is a Christian-based charity that has built supportive housing for more than 700 individuals in London, Woodstock, Simcoe and Hamilton.
The first joint effort with the city will be construction of the 16 micro-apartments on the second floor of the downtown transit building.
The city has awarded a contract to Graceview Enterprises of Belmont for the $3 million undertaking made possible through funding from senior levels of government.
Another city priority was the acquisition of 10 Princess Avenue for use as a 24-hour emergency homeless shelter with the potential for some permanent supportive housing units.
Graves concludes his report with, “Staff will certainly continue to work with the province in the pursuit of additional child care opportunities for the St. Thomas – Elgin county area but this particular project (the childcare facility) appears to have too many risks attached to it at this time.”
All of which are the result of a soft business case for proceeding with Phase 2 of the social services hub.
And we complete the circle with Peter Ostojic’s question, why is the city involved in building affordable housing units themselves?
A lot of meat on the bone for some member of council to pursue at Monday’s meeting.

Related posts:

A caring environment in a stable, permanent home is the foundation for transformation in people’s lives

From community hub to municipal parking lot: Trading spaces on new St. Thomas childcare facility

St. Thomas is in desperate need of affordable housing. Question is, who should build it?

MAKING POLICE WORK MORE EFFICIENT

Feedback from the four-month body camera pilot project undertaken by the St. Thomas Police Service last October proved positive, not only from police officers but also from the public at large.
The pilot project was the first step the service took to equip officers with body-worn cameras as part of their uniform.
Twelve, Axon body cameras were secured by the service for the trial period, with six cameras deployed per shift while the other half were secured for data downloading and recharging.
The six deployed cameras were rotated amongst officers on community patrol.
STPS Body CamsAnd, after a thorough evaluation of surveys undertaken before the pilot project and immediately afterward, the police service finalized a ten-year agreement with the provider, Axon, worth approximately $1 million.
The agreement covers not only the cameras but Tasers and a digital evidence management system.
Under the agreement, noted Chief Chris Herridge, “equipment will be refreshed throughout the life of the agreement.
“For example, if a Taser 8 is released, and it will be, we will receive the new hardware in Year 6 of the agreement. The BWCs are refreshed four times.”
Last month, we sat down with Chief Herridge, now retired Inspector Hank Zehr and Insp. Scott Barnes to talk about the initiative now in place.
The overwhelming response from the two surveys, according to Zehr, was the need for community safety and the well-being of police officers.
“The Number 1 response back was officer safety and community safety,” recalled Zehr, “and the community spoke clearly that they care about police safety.”

“If there are three or four officers together in a group and they all have body-worn cameras, they can all sync together and show that from all different perspectives on one screen.”

Zehr noted the cameras proved valuable on numerous fronts during the pilot project.
“We had an incident where an officer stopped an e-bike. He had the body-worn camera on and acquired the video footage. Turns out later on. that same e-bike was reported stolen. Obviously, we were able to review the video, identify who the suspect was and make an arrest.”
Herridge added, “You really can’t get a full value in four months, but what we can do is rely on other police services that have been using the cameras in Ontario.”
That research extended to services in Calgary and Kentville, Nova Scotia. The latter has been using them since 2018 after a pilot project three years previous.
Via email communication with Deputy Chief Marty Smith in Kentville, he noted the cameras have also been effective when dealing with victims of crime or accidents.
“We can get an accurate picture of the incident they were involved in, and capture any injuries.”

“Now for disclosure, it’s a secure link between the police station and the Crown attorney’s office. Everything is traceable. Everything that happens to that evidence is tracked within the system.”

Evidence obtained through body camera video can be used as evidence in court and also for internal police investigations and those undertaken by the Special Investigations Unit, the province’s police watchdog.
“It’s great evidence,” explained Barnes. “One of the first things they ask for is all recordings of audio calls, radio calls, any transmissions from car to car and cell video.
“Basically they want video from the time you walk into the station until the person is out the door. So, this is just more.
“From the time you start your interaction until that interaction is basically ended, everything will be on video. If we’ve done something wrong as a police agency, we’ll be held accountable.
“If we’ve done our job, it will be obvious.”
Another valuable feature of the Axon cameras is multiple units can be linked together.
“If there are three or four officers together in a group and they all have body-worn cameras,” explained Barnes, “they can all sync together and show that from all different perspectives on one screen.”

“It’s just going to grow as the technology advances with body-worn cameras and digital evidence management it’s going to make police work much more efficient and I think it’s going to enhance community well-being as well.”

The body cameras are linked into a digital evidence management system incorporated into the Axon program.
“So, each cruiser is equipped with a cellular phone,” notes Barnes, “with apps loaded into it from Axon.”
The key app being Capture, which transforms a cellphone into an evidence collection tool with the material uploaded to Axon for secure storage.
“It’s for video, photo and they can take audio statements,” advises Barnes, “and with the app, it goes straight into the (evidence) database and you can tag it with identifying numbers, incident numbers, date or time. Whatever metadata you want to use to identify it.”
Evidence is also automatically tagged with GPS data.
“Prior to this,” added Barnes, “we didn’t have cameras in the car so it’s opened up a lot of doors for officers.”
In the past when gathering video evidence from home or business security cameras, noted Barnes, “we were using thumb drives or discs and sometimes you would upload it and it’s not compatible with our system. Now that’s all gone.
“This is seamless, and it’s a one-shot deal,” Barnes continued, “and it saves an exponential amount of time with officers tracking down and chasing evidence.”
Evidence that can be shared with a Crown attorney for prosecutions.
“They needed approval at the provincial level and they’ve come on board with Axon which allows our local Crown attorneys to use Axon.
“Now for disclosure, it’s a secure link between the police station and the Crown attorney’s office. Everything is traceable. Everything that happens to that evidence is tracked within the system.”
Chief Herridge added the service is working with the CMHA to determine how body cameras can be employed when police are having a mental health interaction.
“Where we can record that interaction when we do a formal apprehension under the Ontario Mental Health Act and we can take that to the hospital and show the assessing physician and they can take a look at the person because we know the behaviour in the field can certainly change by the time we get that person to the hospital.
“And that may expedite the person being formed and getting them the support they need. It would be nice at some point if we could live stream from a body camera to a psychiatrist and that person could say let’s go with Plan B and instead of going to the emergency department and apprehending that person, maybe there is another support mechanism we could attend and get that person the support they need.”
Herridge concludes, “It’s just going to grow as the technology advances with body-worn cameras and digital evidence management it’s going to make police work much more efficient and I think it’s going to enhance community well-being as well.”
The body cameras are also linked into Taser use and we’ll have more on that in this corner very shortly.

Related posts:

In the picture: A body camera pilot project for the St. Thomas Police Service

Body-worn cameras ‘are often effective when dealing with victims’ – Kentville Police Service

PREPARE TO PAY MORE FOR PARKING PERMITS

Did you know motorists are not paying their fair share for municipal parking permits?
That’s the argument contained in a report to council Monday from Matthew Vriens, the city’s manager of roads and transportation.
He advises, “St. Thomas parking fee structure is currently undervalued when reviewed against similar-sized municipalities who share comparable parking programs.”
The new rates involve a fairly hefty hike, although the last rate increase was back in 2007.
Proposed parking rates April 2021Vriens continues, “Quite often cities with their unique tourism attractions often have premium parking rates in contrast to manufacturing and the economic diverse communities such as St. Thomas.
“With the above-proposed rates adjusted we fall within the average of our peers while steering clear of clear
specialty travel hotspot rates.”
The increase in parking fees is expected to generate an additional $20,000 or so in 2022.
His recommendation to council is that a by-law is prepared to increase parking pass rates, although no determination as to when this would come into effect.

FOR THE CALENDAR

With Wonderland Road from St. Thomas up to Highway 401 now completely upgraded, is the next project elimination of the 90-degree curve to meet up with Ron McNeil Line?
Wonderland Road intersection EAThe County of Elgin and the Ministry of Transportation have begun an environmental assessment to determine if improvements are required in the area of Wonderland Road, Ron McNeil Line, Ford Road and Highway 3.
GHD Group has been retained “to confirm the need and justification for improvements, identify alternative solutions, and evaluate alternatives based on the effects on technical criteria (including traffic), and the natural, built, social, economic and cultural environments,” according to the public notice from the province and Elgin county.
An online Public Information Centre (PIC) will be held April 16 through April 30 to provide input.
More information can be found at https://www.elgincounty.ca/wonderland-highway3/

Questions and comments may be emailed to City Scope

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And a reminder, I can be heard weekday afternoons as news anchor and reporter on 94.1 myFM in St. Thomas. As always, your comments and input are appreciated.

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