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Location committee struck as regional district office space becomes endangered species

Timothy Schafer
By Timothy Schafer
December 2nd, 2019

It’s a tale of two solitudes.

Or a tale of too little space. With the Regional District of Central Kootenay building on Lakeside Drive no longer able to contain enough office space for its departments, staff have been divided up between two locations.

Parks and Recreation and Fire and Emergency Services have taken up residence in the “pink” government building (Kootenai Place) in downtown Nelson while the rest of the operations continued at Lakeside Drive.

The current office on Lakeside Drive is above 100 per cent capacity. In 2019, there were two summer staff located offsite at North Shore Hall and Kootenai Place, while one summer staff member occupied Lakeside offices while people were on holidays and “opportunistically used desks while staff were away, on an ad-hoc basis.”

The offices at Kootenai Place — with the addition of a dedicated Emergency Operations Centre (EOC), Fire and Emergency Services and Community Services personnel — also operated offices at capacity.

The situation is nothing new, having been in place as a temporary fix since around 2013. An office space working group looking at opportunities in 2017 to address the issue through collaboration with member municipalities and rural areas, and through alternative working arrangements.

That idea fell through since it was deemed that “certain groups require access to the public and other functions within the RDCK and having them placed across multiple locations would be problematic and would not serve the public or the needs of the RDCK,” read a staff report to the board.

“It also became clear during the board strategy discussions earlier in 2019 that having staff in one place is desirable,” the report stated.

But a solution is on the way with the formation of an office space select committee, with directors Walter Popoff (Area H), Janice Morrison (City of Nelson), Tanya Wall (Area B) and Joseph Hughes (Nakusp) in the mix.

The committee will also be comprised of the RDCK’s chief administrative officer and up to three additional managers or senior managers appointed by the CAO.

It is expected that the committee will develop a scope of work to include investigating long-term options regarding the Nelson offices — including those at Lakeside and Kootenai Place — and that those options are to consider office and storage space.

As well, the decision could include the options of staying in the present building, building a second story onto the present building, leasing or renting space in an existing building, or building a new building.

In addition, the committee will select a consultant — with expenditures not to exceed $50,000 (funded entirely by taxation) — and a recommendation will come forward no later than May 2020.

Area E director Ramona Faust — who served on a previous location committee — said it remained to be seen which option would come forward next spring.

“Looking at a second story is an obvious option but, obviously, other options are a new build or large vacant building in good shape,” she said. “I don’t know, given the geographic spread of the committee, if the locations considered will be confined to Nelson.”

Until then the regional district will likely extend the Kootenai Place lease for three years. However, the lease allows the RDCK penalty-free cancellation at any time to allow flexibility as the location process unfolds.

The plot thickens

Remaining with the status quo in office space is not an option, however, with the workspace at both locations exceeding maximum capacity and several temporary, seasonal or permanent employees to be hired in 2020.

“While growth over the mid-term is anticipated to be minimal, the current office does not meet present needs and the availability of space will become increasingly problematic even in a slow-growth scenario,” read a staff report to the board.

In consultation with the contractor who oversaw the Lakeside office renovations, the office could be reconfigured to add one additional space, the report stated, with renovations to the Community Services offices at Kootenai Place adding two workstations.

“This would not be sufficient to address requirements beyond the current year,” the report read.

As well, storage and outdoor yard space has further become an issue for the RDCK and several departments have storage requirements that cannot be fulfilled at the Lakeside location.

“Currently, some departments have regularly required work items stored across several locations, including their homes and productivity is adversely impacted as a result,” the report said.

— Source: Regional District of Central Kootenay

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