Paul Hurst’s favourite things about View Royal’s new public safety building aren’t its fitness centre, its automated alert system or its plush chairs with built-in cupholders.
After serving almost 10 years as fire chief in a 1957 hall deemed unable to withstand even a moderate earthquake, it’s all about the little things.
“Heat. Heat is nice,” Hurst said at a large table in the public-safety building’s kitchen.
“No mould,” he continued. “I don’t have any mice in the building. There are no finches coming up the furnace vent in my office.”
The building is about 99.9 per cent complete, by Hurst’s estimation. Although it’s almost a year behind schedule, it will be completed within its $7,375,402 budget, he said.
Aside from the lack of rodents, Hurst said the building’s greatest quality is the improved safety it will provide the community as a one-stop shop for protective services. Hurst and his 35 firefighters — most of whom are volunteers — moved in about four weeks ago along with about 25 other administrators and emergency program staff.
The 20,000 square-foot property was designed by Hughes Condon Marler Architects and built by Ledcor Construction.
Construction on the site just 300 metres from the former fire hall began in 2013, but plans for a new building stretch back more than 20 years.
The first request for a new fire hall came from a chief in the early 1990s, Hurst said. Engineering reports at the time concluded the building wouldn’t survive even a moderate seismic event and it was never designed to house career firefighters or serve as an administrative base. In 1999, a proposal to build a new facility for about $1 million on town-owned land was rejected.
Hurst became fire chief in 2005 and renewed the call in 2006. But residents petitioned against the town’s request to borrow $8 million, which was deemed excessive. Instead, View Royal residents voted 64 per cent in favour of providing a taxpayer loan of $5.49 million.
In addition to the loan, the project depends on casino revenue, proceeds from the sale of the old property and amenity money from new developments, including a $1-million contribution from the developers of the $100-million Eagle Creek Village project.
The site of the old fire hall at 280 Island Highway has not yet been sold, but was recently rezoned for four-storey mixed commercial-residential use.
View Royal Mayor David Screech said smart design has quelled earlier concerns about the high expense. He said council was not surprised by the project’s late completion, because the contract had such an ambitious timeline.
“I think that View Royal residents have amazing value for their money,” Screech said.
“While it’s a beautiful building, it’s very well-designed and not excessive.”
He said it’s an important new home for the town’s fire department and other protective services such as bylaw enforcement.
“I’m really proud of the building,” Screech said. “I think it’s wonderful. It’s turned out beyond expectation.”
On a tour of the facility, Hurst pointed out several features that will improve health and safety of staff, as well as residents facing emergencies.
Six to eight minutes should be shaved off night-time response times, thanks to sleeping quarters for four. Previously, volunteer firefighters were on-call from their homes.
The “gear room,” where firefighters store their protective clothing, has an air filtration system that removes dirt, soot and asbestos. Residue at the old fire hall was sucked into a basic air circulation system and would routinely appear on keyboards and lampshades in other rooms, Hurst said.
With post-disaster construction standards, the building should withstand a magnitude-8 earthquake. It’s also equipped as a remote workspace for West Shore RCMP, a standby location for B.C. Ambulance paramedics and a remote town hall, in the event of a disaster or disruption.
The View Royal fire department has already responded to dozens of calls from their new hall. The first incident was one where two RCMP officers had to be treated for carbon monoxide poisoning, after rescuing a man from an apparent suicide attempt.
For Hurst, who spent nine years fighting for the building, it’s a relief to see the project near completion. Although he has no immediate plans to retire, when the time comes, he said he can feel good about it.
“I can retire knowing the community is in a better place, fire protection-wise, than when I started back in the early 1980s,” Hurst said.
“It’s nice to see it finally here. You read the blueprints, look at plans and you talk to architects for years and years and years. And you can visualize it, but then all of a sudden it’s here and you go: wow, amazing.”