Cowichan Bay breaks ground on new seismically safe fire hall

Cowichan Bay breaks ground on new seismically safe fire hall
Photo: HCMA Architects
An artist rendering of the new fire hall.

An upgrade is underway for the Cowichan Bay fire hall, which was built in 1977 and does not meet WorkSafe, BC Building Code or Fire Code requirements.

Construction started Monday, Nov. 27, on the new fire hall that’s being built behind the existing hall on Trans-Canada Highway and will be able to withstand seismic events, according to Cowichan Bay Volunteer Fire Rescue (CBVFR).

This is good news for fire crews because the current hall hasn’t been structurally upgraded since it was built, according to CBVFR in a release. They say the building has “significant seismic deficiencies,” meaning it may collapse in an earthquake.

The current hall also has undersized vehicle bays, improper spaces for decontamination after a fire and storing firefighter equipment and a lack of training space, washrooms and showers.

‘There for us when we need them’

The need for a new hall is stressed now more than ever, says the fire department.

“Firefighters and first responders are there for us when we need them. The Cowichan Bay Volunteer Fire Rescue is run by volunteers who drop everything to respond when they get a call,” it said in the release Monday.

“The new hall will be designed to post-disaster standards, meaning it will be able to withstand significant seismic events,” added CBVFR, “and it will be sized to serve the area’s growing population for a minimum of 50 years.”

The Cowichan Bay Improvement District (CBID) delivers fire protection to around 10,000 residents, says CBVFR. Along with Cowichan Bay, crews also serve Cowichan Station, Koksilah, Cobble Hill, Arbutus Ridge and other areas.

“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 CBID.

“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.”

$14.6M budget

On the CBVFD website, which shares more information about the new hall, it’s noted that a brand-new building is preferred over renovating the existing one because it wouldn’t be much cheaper, if at all.

“Analysis of all the information made available to the Committee made it clear that the best use of resources is to replace the existing buildings,” reads the website.

“Options that looked at renovation and additions to the existing building required sacrificing some operational efficiencies and were as expensive as building new.”

In July 2022, the CBID obtained approval from residents to borrow $16 million to build the new hall, says CBVFR. The final budget is $14.6 million, and, as of Monday, the CBID expects to borrow $13.7 million to complete the project. More information about the finances is listed online here.

Members of the public interested in seeing revised plans for the new hall can attend a public open house happening on Jan. 13, 2024, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., at Bench School at 1501 Cowichan Bay Rd.

The new hall is expected to open in 2025 and, in the meantime, the fire department to operate out of the existing building, which will later be demolished.

Present for the groundbreaking were the Cowichan Bay Improvement District Board (Marsha Stanley, Ron Mellson, Craig Krystia, Dean Stennes and Kim Huebner), Fire Chief Robert Grossman, Area Director Hilary Abbott, Owen David of Integrity Consulting, Alan Banks of Heatherbrae Construction and Alex Robinson for HCMA Architects. (Cowichan Bay Improvement District handout image)

Ethan MorneauEthan Morneau

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