An artist rendering of Nanaimo’s new fire station No. 1 on Fitzwilliam Street. (S2 Architecture)

Nanaimo fire chief confident new station will be on time, on budget

Fire Station No. 1 plans go to city’s design advisory panel this week

Nanaimo’s fire chief is confident a new fire hall will be built on time and on budget.

The City of Nanaimo is planning to replace its aging Fire Station No. 1 at 666 Fitzwilliam St. with a brand-new 22,000-square-foot facility that includes an emergency communications centre for a cost of $17 million. The plans go before the city’s design advisory panel this Thursday, Oct. 10.

The three-storey structure, which will be located at 618 Fitzwilliam St., is expected to be operational by 2022. It is expected to last at least 40 years and will be built to withstand a major earthquake.

Funding for the project was secured through an alternative approval process where residents were required to notify the city if they were opposed to a bylaw authorizing the city to borrow $17 million for the new station.

Karen Fry, Nanaimo Fire Rescue chief, told the News Bulletin barring any “setbacks,” the project remains on track.

“From everything we’ve been given, we are on budget, on scope and on time with this project,” she said, adding that a request-for-proposal will be issued by year’s end and a construction contract awarded by the Spring.

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While the project is budgeted at $17 million, final cost estimates are expected to be available in November according to Fry, who said costs are being factored into every single decision being made about the new station.

“We have got a great project manager and a cost consultant as well,” she said. “So, we are looking at costs every step we take and for every decision to make sure we are going to be on budget for this build.”

Fry said she has heard some criticism from the public about the cost of the fire hall. She said the building itself is closer to $10 million while the additional $7 million covers demolition costs, relocation, engineering and architecture work.

“It’s the whole process leading up over three years, including project management,” she said.

Fry also pointed to the City of Victoria and the City of Prince George, which are both building new main fire stations with emergency operation centres.

The City of Victoria’s new 41,700-square-foot fire station and emergency operation centre is expected to cost of $35.9 million. The City of Prince George’s new facility will be 22,000 square feet and is estimated to cost $15 million according to

“I think that we have really done a very good job of trying to meet the expectations of the taxpayers in the city and meeting the operational needs without being extravagant,” Fry said.

RELATED: Alternative approval process for fire station rebuild underway

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The new fire station has been designed by Vancouver-based S2 Architecture. Fry said the building’s design hasn’t changed much since the first renderings were released in June, with the only real modifications being around “value engineering” or the type of materials used.

“We did that so we could be as cost-efficient as we can,” she said. “There have been some amendments to the types of materials used in various areas, but the designs, predominantly on the outside, haven’t changed.”

Fry said she’s happy with the overall design of the new fire station, adding that operations will be on the first level while other services will be on the second and third levels. She said the red, black and white colour scheme is an attempt to pay tribute to the history of firefighting in the city.

The building’s first floor is being painted black as a node to the city’s coal mining past, said Fry.

“It’s to represent the coal seam line,” she said. “We will also have seating that looks like coal rocks. That’s how we’re trying to pay tribute to the history of Nanaimo.”

A Snuneymuxw welcome pole out front of the station is also planned, while the 9/11 memorial will be moved inside according to Fry. There are also ongoing discussions around including a memorial wall at the station for those who died in the line of duty or from “job-related” illness.

“We are working with our retirees on having a memorial wall as well,” Fry said. “It’s important to have.”

If there is one element the fire station is lacking, it’s glass.

“We are trying to be so economical with the construction costs,” she said. “But if it were up to me, I would have a lot of glass in the building all around similar to the one in Esquimalt, but unfortunately that costs more.”

The new fire hall is proposed to be 15 metres in height, three metres above what is allowed under current zoning. As a result, councillors will be asked to approve a height variance for the project at a future council meeting. 
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