Sidney fire hall project waiting for school district

On March 4, Sidney could know whether it’s worth their time to keep pursuing land next to an elementary school for a new fire hall.

Sidney’s proposed community safety building. The Town’s preferred site is at the south side of Sidney Elementary School. This artist rendering also shows a new centre block for the school.

On March 4, Sidney could know whether it’s worth their time to keep pursuing land next to an elementary school for a new fire hall.

Municipal councillors and Town staff went before the board of trustees of School District 63 (Saanich) last week to discuss plans for a community safety building next to Sidney Elementary School. Mayor Steve Price says that in-camera meeting was to get a clear indication from the trustees on the future of negotiations for that property.

“We’ll keep our fingers crossed,” he said.

Price said council felt it was an essential step to get either the trustees’ blessing to continue, or notice to end discussions, after new trustee Jason Price (no relation to the mayor) spoke to the News Review against the idea of building a fire hall next to a school.

“We are looking to the school board for a response on which way they are leaning on this,” said the Mayor. “It’s a key point, the question of where the fire hall is going to go and we need to find out if the trustees support the use of their property in this fashion.”

Board of trustees chair Victoria Martin says their decision could happen on March 4 — or it might take longer.

“We have our process, and the Town has theirs,” she said.

The fire hall feasibility study has been forwarded to two board committees. Martin said they will review the work on Tuesday, Feb.  24 from an education delivery standpoint. Those committee meetings will be public and held at Royal Oak Middle School on West Saanich Road.

Those committee recommendations are expected back to the board on March 4.

The Sidney Elementary School property is the Town’s top choice to locate a new community safety building. It would house the growing fire department, other community emergency services and potentially the B.C. Ambulance Service and an RCMP outreach office.

The feasibility study, available at the Town’s website (sidney.ca) and was recently made public, states the site is central to the community and the best choice out of a variety of places looked at.

However, Mayor Price said their top choice for location will depend on the school board. He said the Town wants a clear message from trustees before they spend more money on planning there. He added the municipality has looked into the disposition of school property. While normally a difficult process that comes under the purview of the province, a school district can sell land if it’s for something that’s in the broader community interest.

“We’ve asked them if they see merit in this proposal,” Price continued. “We need to know soon so we don’t spend more money and waste time on that site.”

Sidney has already spent $35,000 on the feasibility study and has plans for “an expensive public participation process” throughout the planning for the building itself, Price said.

Martin said the trustees have not yet formally debated the project, but anticipates lively meetings on the subject. She added it’s very hard for the school district to dispose of land.

If the school board rejects the idea, Price said the Town would then have to explore new sites and the entire project would move back to square one.

If the school board says they will proceed with negotiations, Price said the land price would have to be reasonable for the Town to move ahead. Too expensive, he said, and the Town could be back to the beginning as well.

Price said for now, Sidney will wait two or three weeks to hear from the school board.