Residents turn up the heat on Sidney’s fire hall plans

Sidney’s proposed site for a new community safety building comes under fire.

Residents, volunteers and at least one school board trustee are lining up against the favoured site for a new community safety building in Sidney.

The proposed location — next to Sidney Elementary School — has some people worried about traffic and safety impacts. Following a presentation Monday night (Feb. 2) by the municipality, some are already throwing out alternate locations for the joint fire department and B.C. Ambulance facility.

“The plan seems far fetched, sketchy,” says Jason Price, a School District 63 (Saanich) board trustee elected last November. “And the arguments and rationale for the Sidney (Elementary) site are without compelling evidence or supporting logic.”

Price noted he was speaking for himself only and not the entire board, which will be negotiating with the Town of Sidney over purchase price and other conditions should the proposal proceed.

“The Iroquois Park site and  idea of separating the training facility from the station seem to be the best options,” Price said in an email to the News Review following Monday’s meeting. “The architect also seemed to betray a high level of concern regarding traffic and pedestrian routes around the school.”

Price and Dave Friend, aka Mr. Organic who runs gardening programs at the school, were interviewed by the News Review prior to the Feb. 2 presentation. They are opposed to using the school property for a new fire hall.

Friend and Price noted that Sidney Elementary has a high population of children at risk — kids that might react adversely to noise generated by the fire station.

“We agree that a new fire hall is needed,” Friend said, “but we want to know a lot more about why (this site) was chosen.”

Sidney Fire Chief Brett Mikkelsen said the land next to Sidney Elementary was deemed most appropriate out of seven sites reviewed, because it’s essentially the dead-centre of town.

“There’s a large street network,” he said, “it’s close to the highway and it’s ideally situated from an emergency services perspective.”

Plus, he added the land is already zoned to accommodate a fire hall and has room for the department to grow over the next 50 to 75 years.

Other areas were ruled out, Mikkelsen continued, as they fell beneath the Victoria International Airport’s main runway approach, something the Chief called inappropriate.

Two sites across the Pat Bay Highway were also ruled out due to the highway’s impact on emergency response time.

“Eighty-two per cent of our calls are on the east side of the highway and seventy per cent of our volunteers live on the east side.”

Those site studies were done in 2010, Mikkelsen pointed out.

Price said he plans to do his research on the impact of emergency services buildings near children and schools.

“For me, it’s zero tolerance there for any added risk.”

Friend admitted his future work with the school could be at risk. He said he hopes councillors are open to having their minds changed.

The cost of the proposed new building has not yet been estimated, said Andrew Hicik, the Town’s Director of Corporate Services. He said that would not happen until more detailed plans were drawn up, the land deal negotiated and the project itself approved.

Renovating the existing fire hall, said Mikkelsen, was ruled out following a 2009 estimate, as it would cost around $2.2 million.

“That didn’t address all of the deficiencies,” he explained, noting the current hall is not up to modern standards for disaster survival.

The proposed new facility is three storeys tall and includes: a four-bay fire hall; three-bay ambulance station; room for local emergency services programs, and; a training area appropriate to Sidney’s needs.

Architects Bradley Shuya and Ron Crawford outlined their design stemming from a feasibility study started in May 2014. That study was presented to council last fall and was made public Monday night. It can be found at the Town’s website, sidney.ca.

The pair stated they had taken noise and traffic issues into consideration in the design. As well, they indicate the entire property could benefit from the construction of a replacement school as well.

Councillors asked about training needs and the sharing of space with Central and North Saanich departments. Mikkelsen said Sidney works with their neighbours but has specific needs that are not addressed.

Mayor Steve Price asked if the current site was too small to accommodate a growing department. Mikkelsen confirmed that, adding of all the options on the table, the Sidney Elementary land was still the best.

Councillor Barbara Fallott noted the full house at the meeting, saying she was glad to see so many people.

“For or against,” she said, “make your arguments from an informed position.”

A new emergency services building is far from a done deal. Council said negotiations with the school district will continue and they plan on having public input on the proposal as progress is made.