Sylvan Lake’s taxpayers will have a chance to voice their opinions on town plans to borrow $5 million for construction of a new fire hall in Beacon Hill, near the RCMP detachment.
Councillors dealt with several fire hall related issues during their regular meeting Mar. 10 including unanimously voting to pass first reading of the borrowing bylaw. A public hearing on the bylaw was set for Apr. 14.
A notice to electors must be published for two weeks in a local newspaper to inform taxpayers and allow them a chance to petition for a vote on the borrowing bylaw.
Then at their Apr. 14 meeting, after the public hearing, councillors may choose to pass second and third reading of the bylaw.
Total cost of the fire hall is now estimated at just over $6.27 million now that detail design has been completed. That’s up from a preliminary budget in January 2013 of $4.625 million.
The town plans to borrow the $5 million from Alberta Capital Finance Authority for 25 years. The current rate is 3.545 per cent which would result in annual payments of $303,204. They can borrow for the provincial organization four times a year, in March, June, September or December.
Darren Moore, the town’s director of finance, indicated in his report that projections are that interest rates could begin to rise as early as this fall, so he recommended borrowing in June.
The bylaw states the remainder of the expense would be generated from a grant of $600,000, reserves of $151,181 and sale of the current fire hall for $518,869.
Councillor Dale Plante suggested the sale price of the existing fire hall is low and was told an appraisal would be done to determine a price before it was listed for sale.
Councillors spent time the previous week grilling staff about the increased costs during a committee of the whole meeting Mar. 5. Part of the increased cost was related to site preparation and ancillary work of over $900,000, up from a projected cost of $125,000. Other increases were for contingencies which weren’t initially included in the budget and development and permit fees.
“I think this is absolutely a necessary project,” said Councillor Jas Payne, during the committee meeting. But he expressed “sticker shock” at the $1.5 million increase in the cost. “This is such a shock, is this one of the things that could have been preventable if we put all our ducks in a row?” he asked.
Ron Lebsack, director of community services, replied they didn’t do the geotechnical or topographic survey before they got an architect. He said in future they will “work on not rushing the process so much”.
The other explanation was that the first estimate was done when architects were at 30 per cent drawing completion. He admitted the increased cost was a shock to staff as well. If they’d paid for more cost estimates through the process they might have had a better idea of increases, he said.
“We all know this project has to move forward, let’s figure out how to do it,” said Councillor Graham Parsons.
Payne suggested construction costs aren’t going to get any lower the longer the project is pushed down the road.
Councillors Dale Plante and Megan Chernoff weren’t comfortable with continuing without having more information.
Plante requested consideration of other sites while Chernoff wanted to see comparable cost information for fire halls built recently in other municipalities.
Mayor Sean McIntyre closed discussion noting councillors were “doing our due diligence through our queries. The purpose of this meeting is to gather as much information as possible. At the end of the day, as public stewards of public funds, our motion and decision needs to be sound.”
Both requests were answered at the council meeting Mar. 10.
A ‘building only’ cost comparison showed a Parkland County fire hall in Acheson Industrial Park cost $309 per square foot, while a new fire hall constructed in Bearspaw in Rocky View County came in at $336 per square foot. The estimate for Sylvan’s building is at $262 per square foot.
Three additional sites were examined but all had issues according to the report tabled at the council meeting. Among them were fire department response times which could impact costs for new residential, commercial and industrial construction.
“In situations where the time from the point of fire department notification to the point of fire department arrival at a structure will be greater than 10 minutes more than 10 per cent of the time, the (Alberta Building) Code stipulates that either additional protection (ie. fire resistance or suppression) or additional spatial separation must be provided,” read a statement in the report.
During discussion, Councillor Matt Prete suggested that because of the increased costs for the fire hall, purchase of the proposed aerial fire truck should be put on hold for 2-3 years. “The risk to the town is very, very low by putting it on hold,” he stated.
However Payne noted that having seen the consequence of having an aerial truck at a fire at Lacombe’s high school, “I think that kind of apparatus is what we need as the town grows”. He said if it hadn’t been for use of the aerial capability, they’d be building a new $20 million high school there.