With costs rising significantly on the project to replace the aging Crofton fire hall, from $3.5 million in 2020 to potentially $4.8 million now, North Cowichan’s council decided at its meeting on March 2 that more information is needed from staff before it considers moving forward with construction.
In a staff report, North Cowichan director of operations Shawn Cator said one of the factors in the increased costs is that the construction industry has seen a significant escalation in construction costs since the municipality decided to move forward with the planning for the project two years ago.
He said that alone increases the costs of the project to $4.2 million, but the recommendation that the size of the new fire hall be increased from 2,150 sq. ft. to 3,636 sq. ft. would see the costs jump to $4.8 million.
Cator said the original proposal for the new building called for a combination training room and recreation area of 1,000 sq. ft., but after consultations with the volunteer staff at the fire hall, it was concluded that creating separate recreational areas, including a dedicated space to relax and decompress following a call out, promoted camaraderie within the volunteers and improved the retention of personnel.
“Creating separate recreation spaces was consistent with the other volunteer halls in the municipality and other local governments on Vancouver Island,” Cator said.
“Therefore, staff recommends separating the two uses and proposes changes to the building’s design.”
Cator said that in order to incorporate a separate recreation area in the building, it will be necessary to increase the total square footage of the building.
He said the design team identified that adding a basement option to the original 2,150 square foot plan would be the most cost-effective way to add the required space.
“The new building would include 994 sq. ft. for the training room, and 865 sq. ft. for the recreation area,” Cator said.
“The total floor area would be 2,210 sq. ft. for the main floor, and 1,426 for the basement for a total of 3,636 sq. ft.”
At the meeting on March 2, Coun. Rob Douglas said he wants to ensure the firefighters have high-equality facilities, the right equipment and proper training, but council has to balance that with some of the other costs pressures North Cowichan is currently facing.
“We’re now looking at a more than four per cent tax increase [in 2022] and something more significant than that next year,” he said.
“We’ve just borrowed almost $50 million for a new police station and I do worry about what this means for our financial picture. I want to see more analysis so I move that we send this back to staff for a report on the cost and tax implications of increasing the costs of the new fire hall from $4.2 million to $4.8 million.”
After some discussion on the recommendation to separate the training room and recreation area, Mayor Al Siebring said he’s leaning toward having the issue referred back to staff, but delaying the project potentially means more increases in the construction costs.
“Every time we delay a piece of construction, it gets more expensive to build,” he said.
“But I take Coun. Douglas’ point of getting some specificity on these numbers so we can be clear on how we’re going to pay for all this.”
Council voted to send the issue back to staff in a 6-1 vote, with Coun. Tek Manhas opposed.