THUNDER BAY — Thunder Bay’s new correctional complex will come with a $1.2-billion price tag.
The province on Monday confirmed the amount and said the project, which was awarded to EllisDon Infrastructure Justice to design, build, finance and maintain the facility, will begin construction this fall and is expected to be complete by late 2026.
The project was first proposed by the previous Liberal government and then was green lit by the current Conservatives, who gave it the final go-ahead with about six weeks remaining before the June 2 provincial election.
The new building will serve as a replacement for the Thunder Bay District Jail and the Thunder Bay Correctional Centre.
Shawn Bradshaw, president of OPSEU Local 738 at the correctional centre, said there were times when he and his membership thought the facility might never become a reality, but it appears to be a done deal at this point.
“I’ve been pretty confident this was going to come through. It was only a matter of time. Obviously we waited a lot longer than we’d hoped, but understanding with the government change and COVID really slowed things down,” Bradshaw said.
“Now we have that concrete commitment. There’s no going back. EllisDon won the contract and they’re in it for the long haul now. Getting some work, some construction, started later this summer to early fall is going to be a really good feeling for the correctional centre and the jail staff.
The Thunder Bay jail, plagued in recent years by overcrowding, was opened in 1928, making it one of the oldest correctional facilities in all of Ontario. The correctional centre, located on Highway 61, was opened in 1965 as a prison farm.
Bradshaw said the new facility will be beneficial to both staff and inmates.
“This is really going to create a lot of housing benefits for the inmates. It will be a safer environment, a more normalized living environment and just all around a more positive place to be, where maybe we can actually do some of the rehabilitative work that we’re supposed to,” Bradshaw said, adding he and his membership have had plenty of input in what the new complex should include.
It should also help attract and retain staff, though Bradshaw cautioned as it stands the new facility would be about 100 staff members short of what’s needed to run the new facility.
Solicitor General Sylvia Jones made the announcement on Monday, including already underway expansions at both the Thunder Bay Correctional Centre and the Kenora Jail, along with up to $5 million for a pilot program aimed at staff attraction and retention.
“Together, our government’s landmark infrastructure investment and new hiring program will create and support hundreds of jobs in Thunder Bay, Kenora and surrounding regions,” Jones said in a release. “We are making exciting progress on building a modern correctional system that supports public safety, meets the care and programming needs of those in custody, and ensures healthy and well-resourced work environments for our frontline corrections staff to do their jobs safely.”
The new facility will be built adjacent to the current correctional centre.