Nanaimo city council has voted to have Fire Station 1, now more than 50 years old, replaced with a new structure in 2019. (News Bulletin file)

Nanaimo to get new downtown fire hall

City council approves construction of new main fire station to replace 50-year-old structure

Nanaimo Fire Rescue Fire Station No. 1’s days are numbered, thanks to a city council decision Monday.

Council voted to direct city staff to start the process to construct a new main fire station at 666 Fitzwilliam St. that will consolidate front-line firefighters and firefighting apparatus, fire prevention, communication and dispatch operations and administration divisions, currently housed in two buildings, into a single 14,500-square-foot headquarters.

The choice was the preferred option of four proposed by Nanaimo Fire Rescue to replace or upgrade the existing Fire Station No. 1.

The fire hall was built in 1966, is reaching the end of its life and, in spite of a seismic retrofit in 2001, will not meet 2017 B.C. Building Code standards for seismic stability, according to a staff report.

Other options proposed included continuing to repair the existing 51-year-old building, renovate the building or build a new fire station at a different location.

“[Council] basically said, ‘We don’t want to maintain the status quo. We don’t want to renovate it. We want to build it new,’ and of the two to-build-new options, building it on the same location was the preferred one,” said Nanaimo Fire Rescue chief Craig Richardson.

He said there will be at least one year of design and engineering work before construction can get underway. Cost for construction is estimated at $16.9 million if construction starts in 2019.

The new fire station, which is considered critical infrastructure, will be designed for a 45-year life span and to survive and remain functional as an emergency response and co-ordination centre following a disaster such as a major earthquake.

“It will be post-disaster [standard] to the 2017 building code, which is a significant upgrade where it’s at now. All of the functions will be under one roof in what we know is the best response location for coverage of the downtown area and splitting the gap between Station 2 and Station 4,” Richardson said.

Richardson, who officially retires in July, said, after years of work and deferring major retrofits and upgrades to the aging existing fire station, it felt good to see the proposal approved.

“I think the community should be proud that council’s made this investment and sees that as very important function, especially as it’s Emergency Preparedness Week,” Richardson said.

Nanaimo mayor Bill McKay said city council voted 6-2 for the proposal and he is also in favour of building the new fire station, but wanted to further explore other options, such as combining multiple emergency services in one building, before making a final decision to proceed with approving the fire station project.

“I had hoped the council had considered working more aggressively to include deeper conversations with the provincial government to look a the potential of bringing the ambulance service under the same roof,” McKay said.

McKay said he also wanted to see some older buildings, that would be vacated by Nanaimo Fire Rescue and possibly the B.C. Ambulance Service, retired.

“I didn’t vote in favour of the item as it went through, however, council’s made their decision by a pretty resounding vote and we move forward and I’m pleased that this new fire hall is going to be built,” McKay said. “We’ll get into the financing discussions later on.”

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