(Updated to correct information on site ownership.)
Construction of Sidney’s new fire hall will start in early April.
Town council, the fire chief, municipal staff and other dignitaries will gather at the construction site on Friday, March 31 at 11:30 a.m. to dip the ceremonial shovels into the soil and officially begin the replacement of the existing fire hall on Third Street.
The site of the new building — south of the Mary Winspear Centre, at Eighth Street between Orchard and Oakville avenues — is the Town’s third choice, following a years-long process.
It was initially eyed for land next to Sidney Elementary School. That idea was quashed by School District 63 (Saanich) when both sides could not come an agreement on price — and as members of the board of school trustees felt a fire hall next to the school was not a compatible use of the property.
Sidney’s second choice was on land owned by the Memorial Park Society — which operates the Mary Winspear Centre. That location was adjacent to the Centre’s southernmost parking area. The Society went to court to change the scope and wording of documents that restricted used of their land holdings to activities of benefit to residents of both Sidney and North Saanich. North Saanich residents and District council intervened in the process, concerned that what the Society was doing was not in the best interests of all residents.
The office of B.C.’s Attorney General shared those concerns. Even with the Society having the documents changed to accommodate different land uses on their property, the Town opted not to incur more court costs to try to convince the Attorney General of the community benefits of the new fire hall outside of Sidney’s boundaries.
That meant seeking a third site for the community safety building — and the Town settled on an area approximately 50 meters further south of the Winspear Centre. Most of that land is held by the VAA, while a smaller portion is owned by the Town (the current skateboard park). Sidney had to seek zoning and development permission from the VAA and Transport Canada in order to proceed, as well as enter into a 61.25-year lease with the VAA. They got that early in March and will proceed with the first phase of construction – the foundation work – having already hired Kinetic Construction to lead the project.
Sidney is still working with the Memorial Park Society and will be leasing some of their property to accommodate an access road off Bevan Avenue into the fire hall’s parking area.
As construction proceeds, and the Town pursues another project in the area (a large parking lot), the existing skateboard park will be removed. A new skate park is already under construction in Tulista Park near the waterfront side of the community.
The community safety building will house the Town’s fire department, B.C. Ambulance station and other local emergency services groups and activities.
The building is estimated to cost $10 million. The Town has the leeway to borrow up to that amount, but staff have said they only hope to use approximately $6.3 million in borrowed funds. The sale of the current fire hall (for an estimated $2 million), B.C. Ambulance Service lease payments ($1.2m) and Gax Tax funds ($500,000) will cover the rest.