The Salt Spring Fire Protection District Board has voted to not pursue rebuilding the Ganges fire hall and its foundations and to instead concentrate on a different location for a new hall.
The decision came after review of two professional reports on the facility and fire department needs.
The board’s Fire Rescue Advisory Committee received reports this month from Herold Engineering and FireWise Consulting, both of which confirmed the current facility is not suitable and that rebuilding on the site would not make sense financially. The focus will shift to the Brinkworthy property owned by the fire district as the primary alternate option, although variables such as water servicing still have to be determined.
“The board as a whole really wants to move forward, and our approach all along has been to have all the information to have the best evidence-based case,” said fire board chair Ron Lindstrom. “It’s been somewhat time consuming but necessary for two reasons. One is to rule out the current site and the second is to provide the rationale to explore the Brinkworthy site in more detail.”
The seismic assessment update provided by Herold Engineering and the baseline needs report done by FireWise identified several deficiencies in the current hall and the downtown property that support making a move.
Herold Engineering has found the site is not seismically sound, since it was built on infill without pilings to support it, and it may not withstand a major disaster, reducing the capacity of emergency services to respond. The cost of a seismic retrofit, according to the estimates provided in the report, is in the range of $1.5 to $2 million. This does not include the additional costs to renovate the building.
FireWise determined the Ganges hall is poorly placed, does not meet operational requirements and is at risk from several potential natural disasters. The report contends recent emergency events have shown having “resilient facilities that can support a professional team tasked with managing the impacts of an emergency is critical to the safety of residents.”
“Equally important, the facility has to be able to support the health and safety needs of the full time and paid on-call personnel who serve the department and community. Careful assessments have shown us that this is not the case in the current facility.”
In light of the problems identified with the building, the board accepted a recommendation from the advisory committee to obtain estimates for the immediate work necessary to make the existing hall safe and useable until a new facility can be built. This will include evaluation and repairs of the electrical system, roof repairs, termite damage, assessment of vehicle exhaust extraction systems and evaluation of air ventilation systems.
While previous boards may have been holding off on major investments since they hoped to have a new hall completed, Lindstrom said the items identified above can no longer be ignored.
“In the short-term we clearly need to look after the current site’s deficiencies. As each year goes by the situation doesn’t get any better, it gets worse,” Lindstrom said.
Salt Spring Fire Chief Arjuna George agreed with the short-term and long-term assessments.
“It’s always been something management, the board and even the public has known, that the hall is past its prime and has some issues,” George said. “We’ve kept pushing the timeline down the road but it’s come to the point that some repairs have to be done to make the hall safe for Salt Spring Fire Rescue. And it’s always been pretty evident that we’ll have to find a new location for the main fire station.”
With the Ganges site now ruled out, some potential issues with the property next to Brinkworthy Estates now have to be resolved. Confirming water supply will be at the top of the list. On April 30 the North Salt Spring Waterworks District board denied the fire district’s request for water service at that site due to its moratorium policy. There are also questions about BC Hydro transmission lines and how they might impact radio communications and safety, and about septic/sewer servicing.
Lindstrom said the advisory committee will need to determine whether a well can provide potable water for the site.
“We’ll have to do onsite testing if that is a definitive no,” he said about the NSSWD decision.”
“We own the property, which is a huge bonus financially, but before we go ahead, we have to make sure it’s adequate for everything,” George said. “We will have to make sure we absolutely dot our I’s and cross our T’s to make sure it’s the best option for the taxpayers of Salt Spring Island.”
Information about the fire hall replacement project is available online at saltspringfire.com. People can also sign up to receive emailed updates at saltspringfire.com/fire-rescue-advisory-committee/.