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City of Powell River staff presents recommendations about design and potential referendum for new fire hall

Committee of the whole discusses potential new emergency services facility
FACILITY REVIEW: City of Powell River’s committee of the whole had a discussion about a prospective new fire hall, to replace the Courtenay Street facility above, and agreed to have a basic design prepared for potential grant funding, and to guide the developmental process if council decides to proceed.

City of Powell River councillors will consider what needs to be done in terms of whether and when to build a new fire hall facility.

At the February 15 committee of the whole meeting, chief administrative officer Russell Brewer said he was appearing before the committee following council’s direction in January. He said council had accepted a report from the fire hall/emergency services facility select advisory committee, and at a finance committee meeting, staff was directed to bring back more information regarding possible next steps, including a possible referendum. Brewer said he had some options for councillors’ consideration for what those next steps could be, should they choose to carry on with referendum options.

Brewer said there were considerations that could be made, one being to do nothing further at this point. Another reflects discussion councillors had around the desire to have some schematics or designs, whether it be to inform a referendum or to have something in hand to pursue grant opportunities, should they become available, according to Brewer.

He said staff can be directed to move forward with the fire hall design project.

“I want to point out that it was included in the 2021 financial plan, and it has been carried forward to the draft 2022 financial plan,” said Brewer. “It reflects some of the deliberation the fire hall committee had. They were quite clear in their recommendations that they would like to see a design build project should we proceed to the point of building a fire hall.

“There’s $180,000 currently built into the financial plan that could be used to help put in place a project to come up with some designs.”

Brewer said his next set of recommendations reflect the prospect of council wanting to pursue a referendum question. He said there would be a couple that provide direction, one being to recommend to council the idea of holding a referendum question. The other one would be to direct staff to draft a loan authorization bylaw.

“That’s it in a nutshell should you choose to pursue a referendum,” said Brewer. “There’s also a recommendation should you choose to pursue some designs.”

Mayor Dave Formosa said his recommendation would be that the city needs to find out where it lands with the consolidated wastewater treatment plant costs.

“We know we’re building in the middle of a pandemic,” said Formosa. “Anyone in the building industry knows how massively expensive that has become. Putting together a question for a referendum is a little premature because we need, as a community, to feel comfortable where we land with the treatment plant and what it costs.

“But, we also need to be prepared for a shovel-ready project, given the opportunity to get grants, or to be able to have a product that gives us a good idea of costs. It’s time to create a schematic plan that we have on the shelf, ready to go, and if there is a big grant opportunity, or we’re feeling comfortable where we are, then it can be brought to the public, I would hope, in a referendum.”

Formosa said he doesn’t think people understand the existing fire hall doesn’t provide the basic health and safety opportunities for firefighters.

“I’m all for spending the money to get a facility that council can agree on,” said Formosa.

Doubt makes motion

Councillor George Doubt said he is going to make a motion that staff be directed to move forward with the fire hall design project approved in 2021 to facilitate the design of the facility, to pursue grant funding opportunities.

“Regardless of how we go ahead, we are going to need some kind of design,” said Doubt. “I agree and accept the recommendation of the fire hall committee that we need a new fire hall, but there is no design proposed for it.

“If we are going to go in a design build program, we still need to have some very careful specifications about what we are going to ask somebody to design and build. Should funding come available from the federal or provincial government, we could be further along in the project.”

Councillor Jim Palm asked if the committee had seen any designs in other communities that could be brought forward.

Fire chief Terry Peters said the committee did not visit any fire halls outside of the city. He said feasibility and costing for the proposed Powell River facility was done by architectural professionals and the committee said it wanted something different.

“Without a doubt, I would agree that we should look at other communities to see what has been built,” added Peters.

Councillor CaroleAnn Leishman, regarding Doubt’s motion, said she is in favour of a basic concept design.

“It’s a good idea to start with something because if we have no design to even talk about, it’s going to be really hard to move forward,” said Leishman. 

The committee approved Doubt’s motion for a design project.

Councillor Maggie Hathaway said regarding Brewer’s two other recommendations, she’d like to recommend that council go ahead with being fully prepared for a referendum in October.

Brewer said with the October election, ideally, everything would be sorted by June, if council chose to move in this direction. He said staff could bring something back for council’s next set of meetings in March.

Leishman suggested that the committee move the question of a referendum and drafting a loan authorization bylaw to city council for debate. The committee gave unanimous consent to move the recommendations to the meeting in two weeks.