19 October 2005

A modest proposal - updated

[Left] Her Majesty's Penitentiary, St. John's
Viewed from The Boulevard, looking south

Amid some calls today for the provincial government to replace Her Majesty's Penitentiary (HMP) in St. John's, the following thought crossed my mind.

Erected in the 1850s, HMP is one of the oldest buildings in the province and remains the largest provincially owned jail. The original section is long past due for replacement since it is too cramped, cold and damp for use as a modern correctional facility. It was renovated in 1945, 1981 and 1994 but the site is not really open for expansion of substantial alteration.

HMP was practically in the woods in 1850 when St. John's barely spread up from the harbour as far as Military Road. Today, HMP is smack in the middle of one of the tonier neighbourhoods. It is run-down and the exterior is poorly maintained.

[Left] HMP, from Forest Road looking north

So here's the thought.

Rather than renovate Colonial Building so that it can house a handful of heritage not-for-profit groups, why not turn the Colonial Building into either the legislature (again) or into an adjunct of the legislature.

In the meantime, build a new prison somewhere. I am thinking Stephenville can use the boost to the local economy. Once the old HMP is closed, tear down some of the newer bits and restore the 1859 building as an historic site. Between the office buildings associated with the prison and some of the other buildings (not the cells), there is plenty of space for even more non-government groups than the eight or so that will get to live in the Colonial Building free of charge. You and I may well be subjected to a fee to get into the building.

Here's the CBC story on the HMP issue.