A firehall for the future

Central Saanich’s new firehall set to open in September

Central Saanich Fire Chief Ron French stands in the front foyer of the new fire hall on Keating X Road. The hall’s grand opening is scheduled for Sept. 14. See page two for the story.

The finishing touches are being put on Central Saanich’s new 23,000-square-foot firehall on Keating X Road and Ron French, the municipality’s fire chief, couldn’t be more pleased.

“This is a state of the art facility which has been designed to be useful for many, many years,” said French.

“Depending on how the municipality grows or changes, this hall will be able to expand to serve it.”

It was determined close to 10 years ago, after a Fire Underwriters Survey identified response times for the southern half of Central Saanich (including the Keating industrial area) were well below what is considered appropriate, that the municipality needed a second firehall in a different location that was more seismically sound.

A proposal for a new main firehall, with a smaller, satellite firehall (for now, the existing firehall at municipal office on Mount Newton X Road), became part of the district’s ongoing strategic planning process. The district used the alternative approval process to obtain the funding for the project.

Ground was broken on the $8.9 million project last year. Over the long term the municipality estimates debt servicing fees will round the number out to closer to $13 million, but the district says they are investigating revenue options which could reduce the total borrowing amount.

Major construction on the hall was completed last month and the finishing touches (interior finishing and landscaping) are expected to be completed this month. The project is around three weeks behind schedule but is on budget, said French, something he is very pleased about. The grand opening of the new hall is now slated for Sept. 14.

“We have so many features in this facility that we didn’t have before,” explained French, adding that up until now, Central Saanich volunteer firefighters have been using other, better equipped firehalls for much of their training.

“Now we’ll be able to offer our facility to other departments who need to train their firefighters,” he said.

The new hall features a state of the art, four-storey tower for training firefighters in rescues, a gas training pad and a pumper test area that retains and reuses water. It also features training classrooms, gym, kitchen, dedicated showers and washrooms for both male and female firefighters and space for bunks should the department ever expand into having any full-time firefighters on staff.

“The stuff the architects and designers (Johnston Davidson Architecture and Planning Inc.) thought of to include in the building really mean that the building will be sustainable for the department for years to come,” explained French.

The hall, designed with a lifespan of around 50 years, is built to withstand 1.5 times the seismic force of a regular building. It will serve as the Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) for Central Saanich and the home base for the Capital Regional District’s HAZMAT Team.

This means Central Saanich will have a facility and the emergency equipment should there be a major disaster, French explained.

“Basically we could have the emergency operations up and running here right away after a disaster.”

The LEED certified building was also designed with environmental standards in mind and features technology like rainwater collection systems, geothermal heating and cooling and solar power collection through panels on the roof.

“That will give us the ability to actually sell back electricity to B.C. Hydro,” said French.

Not only will the hall serve as the main firehall and the EOC for the district, it was also serve as a place for community groups to meet.

“It was important to us that it’s not just a firehall, it’s a community building and where we can, we want people to be able to use it,” he said, adding the district has already made connections with agencies like the local Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue Society (RCM SAR 36 or the Saanich Marine Recue Society, formally known as the Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary) to use the hall as their meeting space.

The hall also features a public playground and basketball courts on the property (fundraised for by the department, not funded by tax dollars) which may be useful as developers eye the land across the street for a townhouse project.

The grand opening on Saturday, Sept. 14 from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., will feature a barbecue, tours of the new facility and visits from local dignitaries.