Proposed Gabriola fire hall could cost $4.3 million

Residents will vote on the project this November during a referendum.

The Gabriola fire hall wouldn’t survive an earthquake and needs replacing, which could cost up to $4.3 million.

“It will quite literally fall down in a minor seismic event,” said Rick Jackson, Gabriola fire chief. “The floor is cracking and subsiding in one part of the bay.”

The community has also outgrown the building, which was originally built in 1969, as it no longer has enough space for the Gabriola Volunteer Fire Department’s six vehicles.

Gabriola residents will vote this fall in a referendum whether they’re willing to spend that kind of money on the building.

The decision to go to the voters in conjunction with the municipal election in November was made after a petition against the project was received.

Originally the Gabriola Fire Protection Improvement District was going to use the alternate approval process, but with the submission of the petition the organization changed its plans, said Albert Reed, a board member of the fire protection district.

Reed said the organization will approach the province for a loan and wants to demonstrate the community supports the idea.

The fire protection board has architectural designs and engineering reports and will gather further information to present more accurate number to the community this fall.

Jackson said $4.3 million is ball park figure, which includes the cost of borrowing, and he expects it to come down after more details are hammered out about the design.

The fire district has saved $1.5 million in its capital building fund reserve for construction and will borrow the remainder. The loan would impact residents’ taxes, but Reed said that increase won’t be known until more concrete costs are determined.

Reed, who also holds a master’s degree in fire protection engineering from the University of British Columbia, said the fire district is concerned the island’s insurance rating, which saves property owners significant money on their insurance premiums, would be compromised if the new building isn’t built.

The Gabriola Fire Department has tanker shuttle accreditation and the island benefits from the same insurance rating as a town with fire hydrants, even though there are only about four hydrants on Gabriola.

The new building would be constructed to post-disaster standards and to meet LEED silver specifications, but the district will forgo the accreditation process to save money. It would have space for eight vehicles, training space for firefighters and public education programs, as well as storage and maintenance space.

Jackson said alternatives to constructing a new building were explored, such as upgrades, but problems with the foundation made it impossible.