More expensive city projects loom for Nanaimo

As Nanaimo's city council grapples with how to pay for current big ticket items like water and sewer infrastructure, a new $65-million water treatment facility and a new city annex, several other expensive public projects loom on the horizon, according to a staff report.

Fire Station No. 1 is among several expensive public projects that will require attention in the near future

Fire Station No. 1 is among several expensive public projects that will require attention in the near future

As Nanaimo’s city council grapples with how to pay for current big ticket items like water and sewer infrastructure, a new $65-million water treatment facility and a new city annex, several other expensive public projects loom on the horizon.

Though there are no current plans to replace it, Fire Station No. 1, located at Milton and Fitzwilliam streets, is identified in a staff report as rapidly nearing the end of its life. It will require either $1 million in upgrades or an $8-million replacement building.

Built in 1967, the fire hall is too small to house some modern fire trucks, needs a new boiler and, because of its cement structure, requires energy-sucking portable air conditioners to keep staff comfortable in the summer.

Ironically, because of its age, it also lacks modern fire safety features – there is no fire separation between floors and no secondary means of egress.

Ron Lambert, Nanaimo’s fire chief, said Fire Station No. 1’s ability to act as the city’s emergency coordination and communication centre in the event of a major disaster, most notably an earthquake, would be questionable.

“Number one is hard-wired to all the essential information we’d need in the event of a disaster, so there is some concern there,” said Lambert. “We’re prepared to address the needs of the station from the desire perspective, but probably not from a financial perspective at this point.

“In concert with fire safety problems, the question becomes what’s more viable, to sink one million dollars into it for renovations or to replace it and that’s a very difficult question, particularly because of the economy and where it’s at and nobody wants to pay the extra taxation.”

Fire Station No. 1’s most recent seismic upgrade was completed in 1999 and only meets 1996 code. It was deemed sub-standard to be considered the city’s prime emergency coordination centre.

While the proposed new $16-million city annex is expected to house some emergency capabilities, it will likely only be used as an alternative site should Fire Station No. 1 be inaccessible.

That could leave Nanaimo vulnerable, said Lambert.

“At present time, we have no facility for a communications and emergency coordination centre that is bulletproof,” he said.

Nanaimo Mayor John Ruttan said the purpose of the staff report was to identify all public buildings that will require replacement or upgrades and create a list of priorities for future councils to follow. But with the city’s tax base already stretched – the tax rate increase over the next five years is about 20 per cent – paying for them will be a challenge.

“At this point, any attempt to touch [the fire hall] would trigger all kinds of seismic reviews and that’s why we’re at where we’re at. We know it needs attention, but we’re not prepared to deal with it right away,” said Ruttan.

The proposed new city annex is necessary because a recent seismic report stated more than $6 million would be required to bring the 70-year-old former warehouse up to standard.

But Fire Station No. 1 isn’t the only facility in need of attention.

The city’s public works yard was also labelled inadequate. There have been some discussions by city staff about constructing a new building at the site that would consolidate some of the existing buildings into a single facility.

It is estimated $12 million will be needed to replace the building, but there are no current plans to proceed with the project.

“It’s getting to be quite a tab,” said Ruttan, adding that water and sewer infrastructure alone is already underfunded by several million dollars annually. “We’ve been criticized for building reserve funds, but the reality is if you don’t have a reserve and you’re not in a position to pay for this infrastructure as it comes up, we’re just going to get further and further behind all the time.”

Other potential projects being discussed but not part of the city’s five-year financial plan include expansion of the Bowen Park Complex and a study to determine future needs of the Oliver Woods Community Centre.

reporter2@nanaimobulletin.com