The City of Nanaimo will seek approval from citizens to borrow $17 million to demolish and rebuild fire hall No. 1.
City council, at its meeting Monday at the Vancouver Island Conference Centre, voted 5-4 to pass three readings of a borrowing bylaw, then voted 5-4 again to proceed with an alternative approval process.
Some councillors expressed concern about moving ahead with borrowing for the fire hall before designs have been provided.
“I have trouble with no plans, no drawings, the price being out in the public,” said Coun. Jim Kipp, adding that he didn’t like the location, either.
City council passes first three readings of a bylaw to borrow up to $17 million for reconstruction of Fire Station No. 1. City will proceed with an alternative approval process. #Nanaimo
— Nanaimo Bulletin (@NanaimoBulletin) February 20, 2018
The new fire hall would replace the existing one on Fitzwilliam Street and the new facility would incorporate an emergency co-ordination and dispatch centre. Karen Fry, Nanaimo Fire Rescue chief, said the building is estimated to cost $7.7 million, and Victor Mema, city chief financial officer, said design and preparation work, demolition of the current building and provision of a temporary facility during construction are some of the other included costs.
Coun. Jerry Hong said “I’m missing some numbers here, because that doesn’t add up” to $17 million, and Coun. Bill Bestwick expressed some of those same reservations, as well as other concerns.
“I’m torn because it’s a $17-million number and we’re going to receive the design after we approve $17 million … it almost seems backwards,” said Bestwick. “Now we’re discussing $2-3 million for an architect. I can’t imagine us getting it for $1.5 [million], a bargain-basement deal now, and I can’t imagine us getting a $17-million hall for $15 million now because we’ve already said we’re willing to spend up to $17 million.”
Mema said city staff was recommending moving forward on the borrowing because council had already voted last year to build a fire hall at that cost, and had also discussed the budget for design work in its recent financial plan discussions.
“I assumed all these things were still fresh in council’s mind, but it’s obvious they’re not…” Mema said. “You’ve already agreed that you wanted to build a new fire hall. We already agreed how we were going to finance it. We’re simply asking to start the process of financing it.”
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Coun. Ian Thorpe said he didn’t want to delay the fire hall project or push it back to an October referendum.
“I want to get this moving ahead,” he said. “I want to see some designs, but I will say this: I’m not interested in arguing over what colour paint we put on the exterior of the building. We choose a project manager and we put our faith in our staff and the experts that we hire.
“But by all means, let’s take the first step and approve some borrowing so that we can get this thing off the ground.”
Kipp replied that “I do worry about the colour. I do worry about how it looks,” saying that the city’s water treatment plant, for example, was built to look like “a beautiful house” when it only needed to be an industrial building.
Hong, too, wondered whether the city was choosing a “Cadillac” of fire halls when it didn’t need to.
“Our intention was not to build the Cadillac model,” said Fry. “It is to be efficient and [find] best value for the city’s money.”
City clerk Sheila Gurrie recommended alternative approval over a referendum, saying the cost difference is significant – $1,500 compared to $150,000. Bestwick, who had raised the notion of a referendum, said he’s not fond of alternative approval.
“I think it’s confusing and complicating to the majority of people that don’t really pay all that much attention. It doesn’t usually draw a strong following,” he said.
With both of Monday’s votes, councillors Hong, Bestwick, Kipp and Gord Fuller were opposed.
The city will need provincial government approval to move forward with the borrowing bylaw. The alternative approval process will take place between April 3 and May 4 and if fewer than 10 per cent of eligible voters express opposition, city council can pass the borrowing bylaw.