From campus to accessible courthouse

The College of the North Atlantic campus in Stephenville Crossing will be converted into a courthouse for the Bay St. George region. – © Jaymie L. White

By Jaymie L. White

Special to Wreckhouse Press

PORT AUX BASQUES – As part of the budget for 2022, Elvis Loveless, Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure; John Hogan, Minister of Justice and Public Safety; and Sarah Stoodley, Minister of Digital Government and Service NL announced the allocation of $8.5 million in funding to convert the former College of the North Atlantic (CNA) campus in Stephenville Crossing into an accessible courthouse and government service centre in the Bay St. George region.

The existing courthouse is a 70-year-old building on Alabama Drive in Stephenville, has been the cause of numerous concerns and complaints about its lack of accessibility for those with mobility issues .

Currently, the courthouse and government services have a space of just over 11,000 square feet, whereas the former College of the North Atlantic campus has over 43,000 square feet of space available, which will mean a significant increase.

The planned renovations are designed to improve safety and security of court proceedings at the courthouse and allow government services to be provided in a modern and accessible building while providing a more functional working environment for public service workers.

The budget includes $1 million for design work and the start of renovations, which will take place this year. The Department of Transportation and Infrastructure anticipates the completion of renovations in 2024.

“Providing a new location for these services is something residents in the Bay St. George area have been requesting for many years. By renovating a vacant building that government already owns, we are improving access to government services and doing it in a way that is responsible to all taxpayers. We look forward to seeing this work and our other projects, to improve accessibility completed throughout the province,” stated Loveless.

MHA Scott Reid (St. George’s – Humber) was among those happy to see the region would be getting a new courthouse.

“I am very pleased that funds have been allocated in this year’s budget for the renovation of the former College of the North Atlantic building in Stephenville Crossing to provide a new courthouse and government office space. This is a cost-effective expenditure of public funds that provide a better facility to serve the Bay St. George area.”

Stephenville Crossing Mayor Lisa Lucas said that when it was announced that the college was moving, they were devastated because it was a big building with a lot of workers.

“At first we thought we can’t have another building that’s going to fall into disrepair and sit there and become nothing, so we had heard Stephenville had been shopping around for a new courthouse, so we thought there’s no reason why the courthouse can’t go there.”

Lucas shared that council had numerous meetings with ministers that went nowhere before speaking with Minister Loveless, who was very receptive to the idea to re-purpose the existing campus building.

“I said there’s no reason why the college can’t become a courthouse. There’s ample space up there for offices, for the Department of Motor Vehicles, for other government offices. So Scott Reid took him up for a drive around the building and they had a good look at it, and I told him, as a community, that we would be very vocal if a new building was built. I said there’s no reason for taxpayers’ money to be spent on a brand new building when that one is there, already owned by the government, and it was retrofitted with – I think it was $3 million not that long ago.”

Lucas was ecstatic when the announcement was made that the courthouse would indeed be moved to the former CNA campus.

“It’s certainly going to bring a lot of employees here. I know we have a lot of employees from the Crossing who work in that building, so they’re not going to have to travel that head (hill between Stephenville and Stephenville Crossing) in the winter. They’ll be just up the road from where they work and there’s also going to be a good runoff. These people will be buying coffee. They’ll probably stop in to Carl’s some days to pick up their lunch. Maybe they’ll go to the Food Center to pick up stuff for supper, so it’s going to have a good spinoff for the businesses.”

Stephenville Mayor Tom Rose said it is a definite positive to have a building with better accessibility, but that there are negatives that come with the decision to move the courthouse to another community.

“There’s such a wraparound of services and so many entities that are affected by a move of the courthouse. Stephenville is the regional center for Bay St. George, so when it comes to the courthouse, it impacts the adjacency of the RCMP who play a critical role. We have the penitentiary in Stephenville that plays a significant role on the docket at the courts, your probation officers, your parole officers, then you’ve got your lawyers and your law firms. So moving it away into another community is challenging for all of those groups.”

Rose worries that the decision to renovate an old building could have a similar effect as the Bay St. George medical clinic.

“This is an old building, a really old building in Stephenville Crossing, so they are going to spend $8.5 million in an old building. The Bay St. George Medical Clinic was an old building too and they put millions of dollars into the exterior, but that didn’t make the building right. There are a lot of issues with that building now.”

Rose said that the easy decision is not always the right one to make.

“The good people of Stephenville Crossing deserve government to help them just like the good people of Stephenville and any community, but to find a use for that building, government would’ve been a little wiser to take one of the many government agencies or one part of a department from St. John’s out of the West Block and move something to Stephenville Crossing rather than taking from one community to another.”

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