People attending the Salt Spring Island Fire Protection District (SSIFPD) town hall meeting last Thursday came away with a fulsome three-course meal of information.
The fire department’s five-year strategic plan, budget projections for next year and beyond, and the new fire hall project were all detailed at Community Gospel Chapel with about 40 people in attendance and a number of questions and comments aired.
Chief Jamie Holmes gave a detailed update on the fire hall’s progress, describing the process used to determine the architectural firm — Johnston Davidson Architecture, which has designed more than 60 fire halls — and the construction management company — MKM Projects Ltd. from Qualicum Beach. Both companies came out on top in the criteria matrix and also provided the lowest bids received from 11 architectural firms and four in the construction management field.
SSIFPD has also hired well-regarded retired contractor Hans Hazenboom to be “the owner’s representative,” someone who can look after the district’s and ratepayers’ interests.
“Any decisions that are put towards us on a technical matter that we’re not comfortable with, Hans is our expert in the room to help us with that,” said Holmes, “and he just bills out at an hourly rate for us rather than a contract rate.”
Holmes described several features of the 11,500-square-foot building with a double-length two-bay garage for four apparatuses. Some of those, in addition to staff offices, are classroom and training areas, a gear room, hose tower and workshop area for maintaining the fleet and equipment.
“A fire hall should support operations,” he said, “and that’s what we tried to design. Currently our building hampers operations versus supporting operations. This building is going to support operations, making it easier for our firefighters, both career and paid-on-call, to be able to do their jobs and to do their training, and to do it safely.”
Some eco-friendly items included that were based on public input are a rainwater catchment system to store 40,000 gallons of water, climate control considered in the design and electric vehicle charging capacity.
The Salt Spring Emergency Program will lease space from SSIFPD, and community rental of meeting and classroom space will also be possible.
Fire trustee David Courtney again raised his idea that a less expensive but larger hall could be designed and built, as had been done in the village of Cumberland by MKM Projects. But Holmes, Hazenboom and board chair Rollie Cook were emphatic that the course taken following the 2022 referendum approving borrowing of $9.7 million for a $13.7-million hall would not be changed now.
Cook said the board had reconfirmed its process at its Aug. 21 board meeting and was now focused on delivering the project.
“The time for that discussion is over,” he said.
Holmes reiterated that every department and community has different needs and that the Salt Spring facility is not out of scale.
“There’s no bells and whistles. There’s no looking for the stars and the moon and asking for the world. What we’re designing is a functional fire hall to meet our needs.”
Meeting attendees heard some design changes may occur when MKM Projects gets down to detailed costing, a process that is now underway. Removal of soil and groundwork preparation is hoped to take place later this fall.
Chief administrative officer Rodney Dieleman gave a presentation on the draft 2024 budget, detailing the reason for a 9.47 per cent increase, as reported in an Aug. 30 Driftwood story.
“The biggest issues are contracted wage increases,” he told Thursday’s meeting. “We’ve done a minimal increase to administration. And we’ve done a minimal increase to operations, based on the staff.”
One person’s question about what the department is doing to improve its access to water supplies for fighting fires, and particularly in the Ganges area, prompted a lively discussion.
Dieleman said the department is working with the North Salt Spring Waterworks District to improve flow to hydrants. Holmes reported that the Fire Underwriters Service had certified the Ganges boat launch as a dry hydrant area, so that a second in-town water supply is now available.
Dieleman asked meeting attendees if they wanted him to put another $100,000 into this year’s budget for improving the water supply, but people didn’t leap at the opportunity.
He summarized the feedback as being “This is a good idea, you support it, ‘but go get me some more information before you start taxing me for it.’”
Fire board trustees were scheduled to consider giving first reading to the 2024 budget bylaw at their Sept. 18 meeting, which occurred after the Driftwood went to press.
Trustee John Wakefield, who chairs the Strategic Planning and Policy Committee, gave a presentation on the draft 5-Year Strategic Plan.
Information about the strategic plan, budgets and fire hall are all available on the fire district’s website. People are welcome to provide comments on all three topics through the website.