Overcrowding at Red Deer City Hall is prompting suggestions that some city offices, now occupying leased space, could be moved into the courthouse building once it’s empty. (Advocate file photo).

Crowded Red Deer City Hall could expand into emptied courthouse, councillor suggests

Buck Buchanan says the city pays a lot for leases, why not look at alternatives

The City of Red Deer should explore expanding offices into the existing Red Deer courthouse once it’s replaced with a new justice centre, suggests a city councillor.

Coun. Buck Buchanan said City Hall is experiencing a space crunch. Some city departments have overflowed into leased spaces around Red Deer, including the Professional Building and ATCO building.

Since the current courthouse — which is directly across the street from City Hall — will be replaced with a larger new justice centre in about four year’s time, he thinks it’s timely to explore the cost benefits of buying this building from the province.

Buchanan suggested it might make fiscal sense to move some of the leased offices into the emptied courthouse so the city isn’t having to pay rent — which is costing taxpayers almost a million dollars a year.

“Once upon a time, the concept of a new city hall was within our capital plan,” said Buchanan.

But this $80- to $100-million proposal had to be shelved about a decade ago, when the municipal funding the city gets annually from the province was cut significantly.

As there’s no money for a big capital project, Buchanan thinks it’s worth assessing the prospect of expanding into a soon-to-be empty building across the street.

So far, the province has not revealed what its long-term plans are for the courthouse structure.

Red Deer city manager Craig Curtis said the Alberta government might decide it has a use for the building. Alternatively, it could opt to sell it, or tear it down to sell a bare lot.

Even if the province is willing to sell it, the city would have to determine whether the building is worth buying, said Curtis. This means doing an assessment on whether the existing configuration could be modified for office space.

He noted the design is “very site specific.”

Coun. Michael Dawe believes Buchanan’s idea has possibilities. “Already we have quite an amount of leased space… I wouldn’t dismiss the idea, if it’s affordable and something could be worked out with the province…”

The city’s Chief Financial Officer, Dean Krejci, said the lease of space in the Professional Building costs the city about $710,000 a year. The ATCO lease costs an additional $200,000, and there are a few months left on a lease of the city’s cultural services building, which is owned by a Red Deer school board.

That lease will run out in July when Cultural Services moves into the former Central Intermediate School. Krejci said some of the upper floor of the school could be leased to interested groups to make some revenue.

The city will be looking at alternatives to the ATCO space, which now is used to store city documents. Krejci noted about $970,000 was allocated in the last capital budget to find and renovate a larger leased space with temperature controls to combine city archives and documents. This would free up more space at the Red Deer museum for its massive collection.

Meanwhile, the lease at the Professional Building still has five or six years to go.

And Dawe is questioning whether the new justice centre will be built on schedule as things are already falling behind.

The old police station demolition was supposed to take place last fall to make way for the centre. It’s now slated for the late spring. The city has received no word yet on what the government’s plans are for the historic Parsons House, which is on land next to the old police station, which was purchased for the new justice centre.

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