Museum considers using former Victoria youth jail for storage

The Royal B.C. Museum is exploring the idea of using the soon-to-be-closed Victoria Youth Custody Centre as storage space for its collections.

“We are looking at that space,” Angela Williams, the museum’s chief operating officer, confirmed Wednesday.

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“We’re exploring the option of using space that is paid for by the taxpayer, owned by the taxpayer and is potentially an option for us. We have made no commitment one way or the other, and no decisions one way or the other.”

Williams could not say when she would know if the facility is suitable or financially viable.

“We keep crunching the numbers and looking at whether it’s viable or not. So I have no answer about when I’ll know.”

The museum and the archives continue to grow and accept collections, said Williams. Storage space is full at the museum and at three off-site storage warehouses.

“Currently, we are able to absorb the collections, but if you can imagine the state of storage, we’re going to have a need.”

Asked if the museum was looking at space other than the youth custody centre, Williams replied: “No, there are none.”

In April, Children and Family Development Minister Stephanie Cadieux announced the closing of the $14-million centre, saying the declining number of youths in custody means the government can no longer afford to keep the jail open. A final closing date has not been set, but Vancouver Island youths are now being transferred to youth custody facilities in Burnaby or Prince George.

The closing was criticized by police chiefs, First Nations leaders, criminal lawyers, family members, the provincial health officer, the province’s child watchdog and all 13 governments in the capital region.

A statement from the Ministry of Technology, Innovation and Citizens’ Services said the centre will remain part of the province’s real estate portfolio and Shared Services B.C. is assessing options for the building and property.

“No decision has been made regarding future tenants of the building and lands,” said the statement.

Denise Blackwell, vice-chairwoman of the Capital Regional District, fought for years to have the youth facility built 12 years ago. She said it would be a waste of money for the centre to be used as a storage facility for the museum, when it was specifically built in pods to house offenders.

“It’s not that I’m not in favour of it,” Blackwell said. “It’s just that I think there are better uses for that particular kind of building. It seems to me to be a perfect place to do something more with people struggling with mental-health and addictions problems in the region. Every day, you read in the paper about some issue with police dealing with people with mental-health problems.”

Esquimalt-Royal Roads MLA Maurine Karagianis said she doesn’t know why the government hasn’t moved more assertively to put needed youth detox or mental-health and addiction services into the facility.

“I’m not entirely sure that having it completely renovated to accommodate the kinds of needs the museum would be looking for is the best use of taxpayers’ dollars,” said Karagianis.

“Certainly, we’d anticipate the museum would need a controlled environment for storage. All of those things are very expensive to retrofit the building. Whereas, that building could be open tomorrow for use for mental-health and addiction services and recovery with simply [Health Ministry and Ministry of Children and Family Development] dollars. It seems to me we would want to see our money spent in a much more effective way.”

B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union president Stephanie Smith also said it would be a waste of taxpayers’ money to use the purpose-built correctional centre as a storage facility.

“The government should meet with front-line BCGEU members, stakeholders and experts to come up with a plan to maximize public services that can be delivered at this facility,” Smith said.

ldickson@timescolonist.com

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