Dealing with the deficiencies at the Maryhill fire station may roll over into next year, as Woolwich council looks for more information before deciding on how best to provide an upgrade.
Where facilities staff had been pushing ahead with plans to rehabilitate the existing building, councillors are now considering a new building as renovation costs grew. The township had budgeted $700,000 to renew the fire hall structure, saw that cost increase to $850,000 and the jump to a $1.4-million budget before bids pushed that to $1.7 million.
“It went $1.4 (million) and then it was presented at $1.7 – just keeps going up and up. I think at that point we should have stepped back and had a look and said ‘whoa, what is the real cost?’ I asked that question way back when it was $700,000 – is it worthwhile repairing that building or building new?” said Coun. Larry Shantz January 20 at a special council session to discuss the 2022 budget.
After the fire department budget was discussed the week previously, councillors heard from Maryhill firefighters and did some digging of their own that cast doubt on the process, including staff’s estimate that building costs had doubled to some $500 per square foot from the pre-pandemic prices.
“Our staff said a new building would be $500 a square foot – that’s really ridiculous. With all the information we’ve got, we haven’t found anything more than about $265, so those aren’t accurate. I think that $500 was thrown out there to make it look like $1.7 (million) is a great deal, but I don’t think it is,” said Coun. Murray Martin, indicating a new building might be more cost-effective.
“Even if we have to go or pay a little extra money, in the long run we are ahead. I think we can make a better decision.”
Acting facilities manager Thomas van der Hoff said the price discrepancy stems from the township generally opting to build through a more involved process that has architectural and engineering firms oversee the whole project, adding the decision ultimately lies with council.
“We are willing to consider pivoting, if that’s council’s direction,” he said of moving away from the renovation plan, which is currently in the tendering process.
Both Martin and Shantz visited the recently built fire station in St. Clements, completed in 2019 at a cost of $1.3 million, arguing that building would be a suitable replacement, a sentiment shared by Maryhill district fire chief Kevin Karley, who welcomed the pause to look at realistic options for renovating and building a new facility.
“I’m hoping we certainly explore the numbers for building new. That’s really all I’m after, that we have a good comparison between the two. And council can make a good decision after that,” he said in an interview after the council debate.
The current building has a number of problems, some of the structural – there’s a leaky roof and sinking floor in the meeting room – and some of them issues with subsequent additions to the original structure. As the fire trucks grew larger and the staff complement increased, the deficiencies became more pronounced, with Karley uncertain that all of them can be dealt with through a renovation.
Originally built in 1966 with two truck bays, the fire hall underwent an expansion in 1977 to allow for three trucks. Another addition in 1986 provided a meeting/training room. Today, the structure is 4,350 square feet. Much of it is in poor repair, however.
Coun. Patrick Merlihan said recent revelations about deficiencies that will persist, the growing cost and wide-ranging estimates should have been brought to council’s attention earlier.
“I’m a little disappointed that we didn’t know all this information – it wasn’t provided to council in the first place so that we would have all the information to make those kinds of decisions,” he said.
The timeline for starting the project is unknown at this point. Karley said the renovation plan called for the station to be vacated for six months, likely necessitating an early-spring start so that the trucks could be left outside and then be back in before winter. A new build would require the same six months.
“With the renovation, we were going to get kicked out for six months. If we do new build, I think we’d probably looking at about the same timeframe. I was talking to the district chief in St. Clements, and he said they did the same thing – they tore down their old fire hall and built new, and he said they were about six months. So it, I think it would be about same timeframe. We would have had to make something work regardless,” he said.