Taxpayers in North Cowichan may be asked to participate in the second alternative approval process within a year as the municipality looks to long-term borrowing to replace the aging Crofton fire hall.
At the council meeting on Nov. 18, council members voted to ask North Cowichan voters through electoral assent, which is proposed to be in the form of an AAP, to borrow $3.5 million over 20 years to build a new fire hall, with an annual payment of $200,000.
An AAP requires that 10 per cent or more of the eligible voters in a municipality must sign and submit response forms in opposition to the project to stop the borrowing process from proceeding.
If 10 per cent of voters sign forms in opposition to a project, the municipality would then have to choose to either hold a full referendum within 80 days, or council may put a project on hold and consider alternatives.
In an AAP held last July that asked North Cowichan voters to back the municipality’s plan to borrow $48 million to build a new RCMP detachment, just 4.6 per cent of eligible voters in North Cowichan opposed the project, allowing it to proceed.
The project in Crofton calls for the demolition of the original fire fall, built in 1964, and replacing it with a smaller 2,150 square-foot addition, as well as associated upgrades to the truck bays that were added to the facility in 2002.
A staff report said that over the past few years, several studies of the Crofton fire hall were completed to identify the facility’s deficiencies and recommend long-term options.
An assessment conducted in 2018 stated that $1.25 million in repairs and upgrades would be needed within the next 10 years.
In 2019, a detailed seismic assessment of the hall was completed, which recommended at least $900,000 of seismic upgrades.
The seismic study also recommended further review of the second-floor addition to the structure, which was added sometime after the construction of the building with no permits.
A floor-load rating study undertaken last year found the second floor to be unsafe for the existing loads.
This resulted in the second floor being closed, and it was determined that to make all the necessary repairs to bring the second floor into compliance, and then still have to do all the seismic work, was not economically feasible.
As a result, the fire hall has been without an assembly space for practices and training since August, 2019.
Last month, a feasibility study was completed to determine the best course of action, and recommended either replacing or extensively upgrading the existing structure.
At the council meeting on Nov. 18, Mayor Al Seibring asked staff how definitive the $3.5-million projected cost of the new fire hall is.
He said the original estimate of the new RCMP building when it was first proposed years ago was approximately $20 million, but rose to $48 million when it was finally approved through the AAP.
CAO Ted Swabey said it’s too early to give more accurate cost projections of the project until more work and studies on building the new fire hall are completed.
“But construction costs are going up as we speak,” he said.
A discussion was held among council members wondering if it would be possible to add affordable housing units, or some other purpose like a child day care, above the new fire hall that could be covered by grants from senior levels of government.
But Finance Director Mark Frame said the fire hall site is small, so there are only limited options for additional usage of the property.
“It would also delay construction of the new fire hall by up to 18 months, and we may not get a grant [for the additional projects],” he said.
“I also wouldn’t want to see the firemen having to continue to practice outside for another 18 months.”