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AAP next month for new $16 million Cowichan Bay fire hall

Unsafe hall needs replacement
The Cowichan Bay fire hall was built in 1977 and no longer complies with building codes. (Cowichan Bay Improvement District photo)

Responding to roughly 200 emergency calls a year and with the population expanding, Cowichan Bay Volunteer Fire Rescue needs a safe and appropriately sized headquarters to operate from, says CVRD board chair and Cowichan Bay director Lori Iannidinardo.

A new $16 million fire hall is proposed.

“You look around and see all the subdivisions, the people, the traffic at any time of day, this is all new,” Iannidinardo said. “We’ve really attacted all kinds of people to our beautiful valley. With our population exploding we will need those services.”

The existing Cowichan Bay fire hall was built back in 1977 and has had no structural improvements since then. It no longer complies with WorkSafe BC, the BC Building Code or, somewhat ironically, the Fire Code requirements. That’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the hall’s issues.

With no seismic stability, it’s been documented in multiple seismic studies that the building itself is at risk of collapse in an earthquake. What’s more the vehicle bays are too small for modern trucks, there isn’t proper space for decontamination after a fire or for cleaning and storing firefighters’ gear, and there is a lack of training space, showers, and washrooms.

“Continuing to work out of the existing fire hall is not a long-term option. If we do not take steps now to build a new fire hall, we may be ordered to do so by regulating bodies,” says the Improvement District. “The longer we wait to build a new hall, the more expensive it will be.”

Iannidinardo agreed.

“They have a large area; lucky for them they have the land thank goodness,” she said. “It’s a big enough space, which is good because if you look at infrasture and building, it’s a wild, crazy time right now with prices.”

To that end, this June, property owners within the Cowichan Bay Improvement District will be asked if they agree to the borrowing of $16 million to be paid back by property owners over 20 years, with an average cost to homeowners of $354 per year. The Improvement District hopes to gain this consent via the Alternative Approval Process.

Property owners opposed to the new hall plan must submit a form to the Improvement District. Those who support the project don’t need to take any action at all. If 10 per cent of eligible property owners in the area served by Cowichan Bay Fire Rescue indicate their opposition to the borrowing, the AAP will not pass.

Should the AAP pass, the new hall would be complete by 2025 to serve the growing population for at least the next 50 years. It would be constructed immediately behind the existing one, and the old hall would remain home to the crew during construction.

It’s an expenditure the Cowichan Bay Improvement District hasn’t taken lightly.

“The decision to pursue a new hall has been made after extensive study and was recommended by a Citizen Advisory Group in 2021,” said Marsha Stanley, chair of the Cowichan Bay Improvement District. “The longer we wait to build a new hall, the more expensive it will be. Investing in this fire hall is an investment in our community’s safety.”

With no community space such as a church or a hall in Cowichan Bay, Iannidinaro believes that should be considered when planning the new hall.

“I really support that it should be conencted to community too, to have some community space and I believe it’s in their plan,” she said. “I’m hoping that the community gets invovled and checks it out and supports it.”

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