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City of Powell River not proceeding with new fire hall

Construction costs exponentially increasing, says interim chief administrative officer
INCREASING COSTS: Powell River Fire Rescue will have to carry on business in the existing fire hall on Courtenay Street [above] after City of Powell River Council voted to not proceed with a new facility.

City of Powell River Council has voted to not proceed with the new fire hall/emergency services facility.

At the September 14 city council meeting, councillors also voted that the loan authorization bylaw proceed no further, and that the new chief administrative officer (CAO) be directed to bring a report on the new fire hall back to council in 2024.

The fire hall went to assent vote (referendum) in the October 2022 municipal elections with 2,450 electors voting yes and 2,416 voting no. According to a report from interim chief administrative officer Chris Jackson, the public assent was based on a $7.5 million cost, but two construction estimates from architectural consultants in 2018 and 2022 put the costs significantly higher.

Jackson told council that after a long process, of multi-years, there are so many factors going on, with construction costs exponentially increasing. He said the most recent consultant report had the project coming in at $1,000 per square foot, which is a $19.5 million cost. He said it is not likely the city could get enough in grant money to make up the difference between the $7.5 million assent vote authorization and $19.5 million construction cost.

The site chosen for the new facility was the city’s public works yard on Duncan Street, and Jackson said there were challenges.

“There’s a slope there that engineering staff have looked at and it adds $1 to $1.5 million increase,” said Jackson. “It’s unfortunate but that’s the reality of it.

“Also, there are a bunch of financial unknowns to take into account, such as this year’s taxation levels, as well as where the consolidated wastewater treatment plant lands. These are some of the things you’ll need to have before you decide to proceed with a larger project. Based on all that, staff are recommending you not proceed with the project as it currently exists, that you proceed no further, and what you do is have the new CAO be able to present a report next year.”

Jackson said the city has also has a new fire chief, Martin Drakeley, with new ideas.

Councillor Cindy Elliott said she has seen other communities where fire halls have been combined with other uses, and funding from other avenues has been procured.

“I wouldn’t mind exploring the idea of combining our fire hall with perhaps residential or something that includes more homes, as well as a fire hall,” said Elliott.

Mayor Ron Woznow said there is a new fire hall in Victoria that has significant rental space.

Councillor Trina Isakson said in acknowledging the report, the current fire hall is not sufficient for firefighters. She said she supported Jackson’s report, but it doesn’t change the fact that firefighters are currently operating in a space that is not sufficient to their needs.

She said she also wanted to acknowledge the work of the public committee that provided a lot of input into the process.

“As the report mentions, we have a number of challenges facing us and some were not true back when this committee was meeting and making recommendations,” said Isakson. “We are in a difficult spot and I’m curious to hear about possibilities for co-location.”

Isakson said it does not feel great for the firefighters or to the public that served on the facilities committee.

Councillor George Doubt said he was in favour of the recommendation. He said the existing fire hall is unsatisfactory and inappropriate. He agrees with the report that $7.5 million is not going to build a new fire hall.

“We need to look at all the creative opportunities; we need to take the time to find the best location,” said Doubt. “It makes sense to have commercial space right above, or affordable apartments. We need to look into it carefully and make sure we understand exactly how much it is going to cost to exactly build the building we want to have built. It’s going to take some time to get to that.”

Council voted unanimously in favour not to proceed with a new fire hall at this time.

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