Council opts to build new fire hall in Elmira rather than renovate existing facility

New and shiny won the day, as Woolwich fire officials convinced a majority of councillors to build them another fire hall rather than renovating the existing building in Elmira.

Presented with new numbers pushing up the cost of renovations, councillors meeting Tuesday night voted 3-2 in favour of building a new facility in the Lunor subdivision on Church Street West rather than sticking with the existing Howard Avenue fire hall.

The new build remained at $1.7 million, while renovation costs jumped to $2.1 million from $1.6 million when council last discussed the township’s new fire master plan in the fall.

A new build will require significant financing or new taxes to cover the cost, however, while the renovations could have been funded fully by development charges, fees levied on the developers of new homes to cover the cost of future service upgrades. The shortfall on a new facility is estimated at more than $500,000 if the township can realize at least $800,000 from the sale of the current site on Howard Avenue. The fire department study puts the value at $800,000 to $850,000 for the one-acre property, about twice what it estimates it could get by selling the 1.5-acre commercial site on Church Street given to the township by the developer of the Lunor subdivision.

Both Elmira councillors, Scott Hahn and Patrick Merlihan, voted against the new building, preferring to stick with the renovations and challenging the assumptions in the report.

“We’re being sold on something the township doesn’t actually need,” said Merlihan, noting council appeared to have no appetite to examine spending in the fire department.

The Ward 1 councillors were outnumbered by colleagues swayed by the numbers, including minor changes in response times.

“I’m going to go with our experts,” said Mayor Sandy Shantz.

Replacing the Elmira station is currently slated for 2020. The fire master plan calls for other work to precede the Elmira project.

Woolwich will partner with the Region of Waterloo to build a joint fire/EMS ambulance station in Breslau, tentatively pencilled in for next year at an estimated cost of $1.7 million.

Where a small station in Breslau now acts as a satellite of the Maryhill fire station, that arrangement would be reversed under the new plan. Once a bigger Breslau facility is operational, the aging Maryhill station could be replaced with a smaller operation that would act as an offshoot of Breslau. The Maryhill building would require extensive repairs, estimated to cost $500,000, whereas a new facility could be built for perhaps $600,000.

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