George Swarchuk, a Lake Country resident and former member of the Agricultural Advisory Committee is calling the district’s proposed new fire hall a “Taj Mahal.”
He said a new fire hall should have been built on the hall’s existing property when the idea was first raised nine years ago, instead of using Agricultural Land Reserve land.
In 2009, the advisory committee did not support an application the district made to rezone ALR land for non-farm use at the property the district currently owns on Okanagan Centre Road, but the district eventually got its way, he said.
The land was purchased by the district in 2007 in hopes that it would one day be used for the fire hall.
“The district will say they love the agriculture and the country lifestyle and they’re the first ones to turn around and take four and a half acres out (of it),” Swarchuk said. “They should’ve accepted the property next to the existing fire hall and built one if that’s where they want to keep it.”
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He said the $9 million price tag is too expensive and suggested that the hall is built closer to the highway due to the high volume of accidents along that section of road, but fire chief Steve Windsor said intersections are the most common places for accidents and that the new hall’s site was determined to keep residents’ proximity to the hall within eight kilometres.
Also, cost and the future road layout plan was considered for the site, Windsor said.
“Berry Road is ultimately going to be made into a right-hand turn only, Pretty Road which connects to the back of our site will be a crossing over the highway at Lodge Road with lights and everything we’re talking. This would give us the ability to get across the highway with a fairly direct route,” he said.
A referendum was held by the district in 2008 to borrow $4 million to fund the $6.3 million project and it narrowly defeated. An average home during that time, assessed at $520,000, would have paid $57 per year for 20 years.
For a new hall now the total cost of the project is estimated at $9 million, $1 million of which will be gathered from the sale of the old hall, $500,000 from the Fire Capital Reserve and $900,000 from the Capital Works Reserve.
A referendum will be held Oct. 21 to allow the district to borrow up to $6.6 million. The loan will be paid in a period of 20 years at about $476,000 per year at a borrowing rate of 3.5 per cent, according to the District of Lake Country’s website. The cost to an average home of $656,000 would be $90 per year for 20 years.
“Just about everything in manufacturing has gone up (a considerable amount) since 2008 and it failed by 25 votes last time, mostly because many people thought we didn’t need it, but we do indeed need it and it’s borrowing over 20 years, but for a building that will take us next to the 50 years,” said Mayor James Baker.
“We’re paying more for the building and it’s not a Taj Mahal, it’s a building that makes it safer for our crews,” he said. “We would be paying more the land if we hadn’t already got it.”
If passed, the new hall will be located at Okanagan Centre Road East and Jardines Road. Part of the site is also planned to be used for a community park.
The price is also more expensive since bylaw services will be operating out of it, Baker said.
The fire hall’s location was determined as part of a study conducted to determine where it would reach the most structures, Baker said.
Fire chief Steve Windsor said the old hall has reached its limit.
“The building was built in four parts back in 1953, so it doesn’t meet any of today’s standards for staffing, showers, chance facilities and that. Trucks are getting a lot bigger and the hall was built when at that time the call volume was about 12 calls a year, and that particular hall now we get around 900 calls a year,” said fire chief Steve Windsor.
It’s been maintained as well as possible, but if we had to go forward with the same building we’d literally have to spend millions of dollars to meet any of today’s standards.”
With limited space, the district decided to build a new hall, even the insurance companies were concerned with firefighters working closely to Okanagan Centre and Camp Road with the number of cars the area sees, Windsor said.
“When the new Lakes division went in, we had traffic go up in huge amounts. We have guys turning into the fire hall parking lot,” he said.
The number of firefighters at the hall has also increased, Windsor said, and as Lake Country’s population continues to grow, so too must the fire department.
”It’s a necessity, when we had the big fire in Nighthawk (Road), we were trying to run 200 people out of that building… it really doesn’t meet any of those requirements that we would see today. It does not meet earthquake standards,” he said.
The current station allows for four trucks to be parked indoors, with two outsides. The new building would double the amount of space, with eight bays and room for the department’s ATV and trailer, Windsor said.
It would also give firefighters the ability to have a shower after a call, and properly clean their equipment as well as other amenities seen in a regular fire hall.