Cowichan’s new RCMP detachment will now be constructed out of structural steel instead of mass timber, as originally planned, as a cost saving measure. (File graphic)

Police building savings really just preventing a cost overrun

Timber frame a poor choice in the first place

The recent announcement that the North Cowichan/Duncan RCMP building structure is to be changed from a timber to steel frame only belies the misinformation and, lack of same, provided to the electorate in July.

At the time of the Alternative Approval Process vote, many of us argued against the rationale and excessive costs of structural timber as part of its design to reach energy neutrality which, in any case, could not be achieved due to the limitations imposed by BC Hydro.

My 60 years’ personal, professional experience as a quantity surveyor, controlling project costs on hundreds of institutional projects, including a number of RCMP detachment and divisional headquarters, indicated that this “copycat” design, and its Fort St. John originator, in comparison to other similarly sized RCMP buildings was/is 15 per cent to 20 per cent more expensive (possibly $6 to $8 million more).

The whole AAP process, and vote, was simply a way for the mayor and council to get official, public endorsement of a project, for which contracts and commitments to the FSJ design, and its entire team of architects, engineers, construction managers and overall project manager, had been made by the mayor a year before in 2019.

The AAP process was chosen, I believe, to avoid full disclosure of this information and prevent a community referendum on the most expensive, publicly funded, project in North Cowichan history. We still don’t know the design costs or savings achieved by duplication.

Further, since neither the mayor, nor anyone else on council and staff, has the knowledge and expertise to handle this project, they have entered into some form of “Integrated Project Delivery” contract with the FSJ design/build team to deliver it. This apparently extends to the hired project manager becoming the in-house expert for NC, as well as the lead contractor.

The claim that they have saved $1.8 million, rather than prevented a budget overrun of that amount by going to a steel structure, is ludicrous and a sleight of hand to conceal the poor choice of timber frame in the first place. It has also destroyed one of the arguments for a costly energy neutral design.

A Freedom of Information request was submitted to council in September 2020 asking for the details and amounts of any contracts made or agreed in 2019 on this project. Only a redacted version was provided, excluding most monetary amounts.

Perhaps some of our community “legal beagles” can comment on the validity of such redactions under FOI rules.

Allen Willcocks,




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