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County will spend $35K on protection barrier at main office

Existing barrier at Westlock County's administration building not suitable in case of “dangerous encounter”
WES - county main office IMG-0210 copy
Westlock County councillors have approved a $35,000 spend to renovate the reception areas at the administration building to add safety barriers. The work is slated to be done this fall.

WESTLOCK – Westlock County will spend $35,000 to install a barrier and structural controls for the west and east reception areas in its administration building, a project deemed necessary as the current configuration doesn’t meet “engineering control in the event of dangerous encounters.”

At their Sept. 13 meeting, councillors voted 6-1 to greenlight the $35K project for this fall which will be funded from a building maintenance reserve, a fund that has $246,000. Coun. Jared Stitsen, the lone dissenting vote, previously made a motion, lost 1-6, to pursue a $65,000 option that would have included the barriers, plus a reconfiguration of the east wing to “maximize office capabilities and privacy.”

County health and safety manager/corporate investigator Jessica Toews said the recommendation comes following “many incident investigations and building inspections” and is intended to protect administration staff. Previous-interim CAO Pat Vincent met with councillors May 26 to discuss the project and administration then gathered a handful of quotes — Toews called the first estimate they received for $200,000 “exorbitant” although it did include “engineering, designs and construction.”

“We decided then to reach out to local contractors to lower our costs as well as help keep the money in the community. I reached out to three local contractors and received two quotes — one refused to provide us with a quote,” said Toews. “The one I’m suggesting we go through is one of the most well known and they have excellent quality and have produced decent products for other businesses here in town.”

Toews explained that a bulkhead will drop down from the ceiling and the barrier will rest on the existing desk while the “paper door” will be replaced by a structural wall and attach to the existing customer service counter. There will be cutouts in the plexiglass screen for staff and patrons to converse.

“On the east wing where the angled wall and the chairs and the table and the circle logo is, that will actually extend out and become a door with the same bulkhead and then (the screen will) drop down,” Toews explained.

While councillors agreed that the barrier is needed, with Coun. Stuart Fox-Robinson noting “the safety of our staff is paramount”, they lamented the cost.

“The safety is 100 per cent, but it seems like an awful lot for a little bit of area,” said reeve Christine Wiese.

“My concern is that we have a barrier that does the job. And I want to make this very clear that one incident, is one incident too many. However, I still have concerns with the costs here,” added Fox-Robinson.

Wiese also noted in last year’s 10-year capital budget the administration building is pegged to be replaced in 2024, with finance director Peggy Hardinge confirming that proposed project will be discussed again during this year’s budget deliberations.

“That’s the million-dollar question we’ve all been asking of how long and what’s the lifespan of this building” said Stitsen, who made it clear he was in favour of the $65,000 renovation. “But we need to move ahead with this, this is important for our staff as we’ve had incidents here before and we’ve seen recent incidents and things are only getting worse unfortunately.”

George Blais,

George Blais

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