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Victoria council OKs plan to replace fire department HQ

It’s unclear where it will ultimately be located, what it will look like or even what other functions it may serve, but the City of Victoria has approved the next stage of the process to replace the Victoria Fire Department’s aging headquarters on Ya
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Victoria Fire Station No. 1 on Yates Street

It’s unclear where it will ultimately be located, what it will look like or even what other functions it may serve, but the City of Victoria has approved the next stage of the process to replace the Victoria Fire Department’s aging headquarters on Yates Street.

Councillors voted 6-3 to move ahead with a process to qualify builders to replace the facility either at the existing location — 1234 and 1240 Yates St. — or develop a new facility elsewhere.

They also voted to fund the $30-million project with the city’s debt-reduction reserve.

“We are going to the private sector and casting a very wide net,” Mayor Lisa Helps said. “If you have a better idea, pitch it to us.”

Helps likes the idea of letting the marketplace come up with ideas for the new fire hall, including multi-use facilities that may include libraries or housing.

She said a market sounding done last year showed a variety of options. “We got back enough to say there is some interest in the private sector in developing a fire hall-plus, or maybe just a fire hall,” she said. “We will see what comes back.”

Victoria Fire Chief Paul Bruce said he is open to the idea of a multi-use facility.

“I believe there may be an opportunity to review space with other emergency service providers as a priority,” he said. “Community spacing as well as accommodations have been successful in other jurisdictions.”

The existing fire hall is the largest of the city’s three stations and houses the department’s administration, prevention, training, mechanical and suppression offices. The two-storey, 17,000-square-foot building has been upgraded since it was built in 1958, but is not seismically sound and barely meets the department’s needs.

Helps said building at a new site is likely the more economical move, as the cost of the build and site acquisition could be partially offset by selling the existing land and there would be no need for a temporary fire hall during construction.

The next step in the process is to issue a request for qualifications to find parties that are both qualified and have the financial backing for a large project. When that is complete, the city could opt to negotiate directly with a preferred party or issue a request for proposals. Construction is expected to start in early 2017.

A city staff report says the debt-reduction reserve, which has a balance of $32 million, has sufficient funding for the fire hall and the current debt budget has room to cover the required repayment costs.

That means property taxes would not have to be increased to pay for the fire hall.

Helps said the decision to move forward with the $30-million fire hall replacement project does not mean Crystal Pool will lose out.

“There is other money available for Crystal Pool,” she said, noting the city has a strategic real estate department tasked with making the most of its $900-million real estate portfolio.

“Just like this, we believe there are creative ways to finance the refurbishment of Crystal Pool.”

aduffy@timescolonist.com