Some say it’s long overdue, others say they aren’t in a rush. Regardless, a new fire hall for Qualicum Beach seemed closer to reality after a public information meeting at the civic centre Monday night.
More than 100 people — including about 15 volunteer firefighters — were on hand to hear architecht Kim Johnston give a presentation about where and how the fire hall could sit on its designated Rupert Road parcel of land, and how the process could play out from here.
After the meeting, Johnston told The NEWS that if all went smoothly, the year-long construction project could start in seven months, which translates into a grand opening date in November of 2014.
Johnston’s presentation centred on how the various buildings and training areas could be situated on the land and how trucks and vehicles could move on and off the site, which is made somewhat tricky by the proximity of the town’s only roundabout.
After her presentation, members of the public asked questions and councillors offered comment.
One person wanted to know if the re-location of the hall from its current downtown site would mean slower response times to calls. In response, Chief Darryl Kohse said “it (the new location) actually gives us better response times — allows us to get there (to calls) quicker.”
In response to a question about the life of the new facility, Johnston said a new fire hall like this is an “absolutely minimum 50-year building.”
After questions from the audience were exhausted, the politicians had their turn. Coun. Scott Tanner reiterated his position that a referendum should be held.
“I would feel more comfortable with voters giving us approval,” said Tanner.
Coun. Dave Willie and others spoke about the how this project was overdue and important because the community needs to have a fire hall that is built to standards that would allow for operation after a seismic event.
Willie and Coun. Bill Luchtmeijer said this project has been on the town’s radar for a long time and needs to get done now.
“Fifteen years ago the fire hall was an issue,” said Luchtmeijer. “It’s time to get on with it before something (seismic event or other disaster) happens.”
Willie listed a number of projects and purchases the town has made over the years instead of addressing the fire hall issue.
“We have always found an excuse not to replace the fire hall,” said Willie.
Mayor Teunis Westbroek didn’t seem to agree with Willie’s assertions. “To blame previous councils for not making it a priority, I don’t think that’s fair,” said Westbroek. “In my opinion, we have always had other priorities and they were important.”
Coun. Mary Brouilette said the timing was right for the financing of the fire hall (no additional tax increases are needed, according the the town’s financial plan, and estimates have the facility coming in at between $3 million-$4 million).
“We get our money very inexpensively,” said Brouillete.
Westbroek, as he has consistently in all debates regarding the fire hall, suggested a slower approach in order to seek grant money.
“I’m not in a panic, I’m not in a rush,” said the mayor. “If we don’t get it (grant money), go to tender and build it.”