New court facility opens in Welland

by Michelle Allenberg, The Tribune

After 17 months of construction, Niagara’s Provincial Offences Court Facility opened Monday on East Main Street in Welland.

The facility, at the former Empire public school site, was completed under budget and on time — the cost was $12.4 million. The building was constructed to replace the older court facilities in Welland and Niagara Falls which were closed last Thursday, Oct 19. The former buildings were rented by Niagara Region, but the new facility is owned by the the Region.

Welland Mayor Frank Campion said he appreciated the Regions recognition that Welland is a significant place of business and development. Campion said the new facility will be good for business development and hopes the downtown core will expand further down East Main Street.

“We hope it will cause incentive for people to start developing further.”

The Provincial Offences Court deals with a number of non-criminal offences including, Highway Traffic Act offences (speeding, careless driving), Compulsory Automobile Insurance Act offences (failing to surrender insurance, invalid insurance), and Liquor Licence Act offences (being intoxicated in public or selling alcohol to a minor).

Joanne Spriet, associate director of court services, said she is excited to provide modernized court services at the new facility. When members of the public entre the building they will be given a number from a self-serve machine. Spriet said this will speed up service and ensure people are dealt with first-come first-serve rather than in alphabetical order, which is how it used to be done.

The new facility includes three courtrooms of various sizes to deal with various offences. The courtrooms are wheelchair accessible and hearing impaired accessable. An infrared sensor detects earphones and hearing aids and can provide individuals with audio of the court proceedings. Once the individual has left the room the audio will stop since the infrared detector has to be in direct sight of the audio device.

The two largest court rooms include two large-screen TVs that can be connected to computers via HDMI and to the Internet for presentations or to present evidence.

Spriet said the connectivity also allows the court to have interpreters call in remotely for people who don’t speak English. Spriet said this will save the region a considerable amount of money in the long-run. In the past the region paid about $125,000 for interpreters, two thirds of that was for mileage to bring an interpreter to Niagara.

Connectivity in the court rooms allows for attorneys, judges, staff and the public to work from their tablets. Spriet said this means there will be less paper waste and paper consumption.

The building also includes three jail cells and a divider to keep female and male prisoners separate.

Nicole Menard, the region’s project manager, said a component of the facility the region is proud of is that it received Silver LEED certification from the Canada Green Building Council. Buildings receive points based on energy efficiency and environmental design.

The glass used on the exterior of the building has little white dots on it. This glass is called bird fritted glass and is used to reduce reflections to ensure birds don’t fly into the side of the building. This was one aspect of environmental design.

The facility’s roof is white to refract heat and conserve energy. The building also collects rainwater for use on the property.

Another inclusion is the installation of LED lighting and motion and auditory sensor lights — about 85 per cent of the building is sound and motion capable. Lighting photo sensitive technology adjusts the light inside based on outdoor lighting in order to provide suitable illumination.

Court services are officially open to the public Wednesday. Monday the new facility was open to the public for counter services only.