Victoria’s new public safety building mixes fire hall with affordable housing

City and fire officials got their first look Tuesday at the foundation of what will be one of the region’s best-built structures.

Construction crews have completed concrete pours on the foundation and core level that will house fire trucks and ambulance units and support an emergency operations centre and eight storeys of affordable rental units anchored by the new Fire Hall No. 1 on Johnson Street.

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It’s an important milestone for what would be a significant building for Victoria during a major natural disaster, such as an earthquake.

“The size of the rebar and the amount of concrete is incredible,” Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said Tuesday after a tour of the site. “This is preparing for the future. This building will stand for hundreds of years.”

The fire hall and emergency centre are designed to withstand a massive quake and will meet new B.C. Building Code standards for buildings designed to remain operable following a disaster, giving it a seismic design load that is significantly higher than typical commercial buildings. After an earthquake, the building — equipped with high-capacity backup generators — will be able to deliver emergency services.

There will be fire and ambulance bays at street level, emergency operations centre and fire department headquarters on the second floor, office space on the third and 130 units of affordable rental housing on the remaining floors. Pacifica Housing will own and operate the top eight storeys.

“There is a lot of reinforced concrete in the the pillars and cross members all exceeding building codes,” said Victoria Fire Chief Paul Bruce. “It’s built to withstand a very significant seismic event.

“I am very very impressed after gauging the space, layout and the [future] flow of things.”

Bruce, who is expected to retire this year, said the mixed-use development with the fire hall at grade “will help to build community.”

The 41,700-square-foot fire hall and emergency operations centre is nearly double the size of the Victoria Fire Department’s headquarters and No. 1 Fire Hall on Yates Street, which has been operating since 1959.

B.C. Emergency Health Services is leasing 3,200-square-feet from the city for paramedics under a 20-year co-service agreement.

The project is being built by Dalmatian Developments Limited Partnership, a Jawl Residential and Nadar Holdings Ltd. venture.

Dalmatian plans to develop the 1.8-acre site on the Pacific Mazda lands over time in four phases with residential towers of 12, 14, 15 and 17 storeys at 1025-1031 Johnson St. and 1050 Yates St.

Builder David Jawl said construction and design teams have not missed a day of construction, even though ground was broken just weeks before the global pandemic hit.

“The crew members on site, who can’t work from home, have adapted to these challenges and continue to move the project forward safely and efficiently and on schedule,” he said.

There are 75 workers on the site and another 15 in design rooms working remotely. Jawl said that number will swell to more than 200 later this year. In total, the project will ­support about 300 jobs through the ­construction and design process.

dkloster@timescolonist.com

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