In 2003, the building was dedicated to a St. Thomas constable who was killed on duty in 1934
03 . 22 . 2017

St. Thomas leaders eyeing old police headquarters for redevelopment

AUTHOR Jennifer Bieman

It’s easy to see how the old Colin McGregor Justice Building could be upstaged by St. Thomas police’ brand new headquarters – the $11 million build north of the Timken centre is a show-stopper.

But as the department prepares for its monumental move this spring, the aging Catharine St. building is stepping into the spotlight – and the city is grappling with what to do when the dust settles.

The Times-Journal caught up with four city leaders to get their vision for the old building once the lawmen leave for good.

Heather Robinson, St. Thomas Public Library CEO

The old headquarters’ nearest neighbours, the St. Thomas Public Library, can afford to be a bit nosy – it has big plans that depend on the property’s fate.

The library is planning an addition, a sizeable one, made possible by a $1 million donation from the estate of St. Thomas English teacher Mary Ann Neely. The seven-figure sum, willed to the library in the summer of 2015, was earmarked for capital projects. But with the changes afoot at the soon-to-be vacant headquarters, Robinson said the library is waiting to see what happens before they embark on an ambitious build.

“We need to know what is going on with it. Then that will tell us where we’re going to put our addition,” said Robinson.

“What has stopped us – not in our thinking, but more in our actions – is just the decision that needs to be made about the justice building once the police station moves.”

Staff are collecting input from library users to see what they want to see in the new addition. Robinson said the feedback will help the library gauge the public’s priorities for the new space.

“We’re going to be tracking how people use us, doing more observation. We want to see what’s the best use for this space,” she said.

Joan Rymal, St. Thomas city councillor

Coun. Rymal has a simple wish for the disco-era administrative building, raze the concrete and return it to nature.

“I think the building is at its limit. Personally, I’d like to see it torn down,” said Rymal.

“The library really needs some space for parking. There’s a lot of people using the library at all hours and the parking is really, really tight.”

Rymal sees the library as a happening spot, an important part of the community that’s being choked out by parking woes. She’d like to see the corner property converted to parking and green space, with a few benches and even a gazebo so library patrons can read outside.

“It would be great to have something… like a little bit of a civic square there,” she said.

“Some green space so it’s not all just concrete.”

Mark Tinlin, St. Thomas city councillor

Tinlin is undecided about what he’d like to see the building become and is awaiting the results of a study due out this spring.

“Ideally, if someone would buy it, that would be great. But that’s probably unlikely,” he said, adding parking and space for a library addition are also possibilities for the property.

Jeff Kohler, St. Thomas city councillor

Kohler didn’t get his first wish, that the police stay in the downtown location, but he’s still hoping the city will find some purpose for the old headquarters.

“I’d like to see it utilized for something. It’s a great building,” said Kohler.

“I think the building is in too good condition, and able to be renovated, for it to be torn down.”

Kohler wants the city to find a municipal use for the facility or sell it off to private interests. He doesn’t want the decision making process to drag on and is hoping council will have an answer sooner than later.

“We need to work on it quickly to make sure it doesn’t sit empty and just become a derelict building,” he said.

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Colin McGregor Justice Building

– Corner of Catharine St. and Curtis St.

– About 31,300 sq. ft.

– Approx. one acre parcel

– St. Thomas police moved to building in 1971

– Building to be vacated in May/June 2017

– Built on site of former St. Thomas Gas Plant which operated from 1877 to 1935

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