Emergency hub fans fire hall costs

Fire protection in Whitehorse comes at a steep price — $9 million, and growing. Three months ago, the cost of a new fire hall at the top of…

Fire protection in Whitehorse comes at a steep price — $9 million, and growing.

Three months ago, the cost of a new fire hall at the top of Two Mile Hill was $6 million.

How does the city account for the $3-million escalation?

The new building now has to meet post-disaster standards and that is expensive.

The building, which will house fire, disaster-emergency and bylaw services, must be earthquake proof.

And in the event of a citywide power outage, the facility will require an independent power source, such as a diesel generator.

“It has to be fully self-sustainable,” said fire chief Clive Sparks.

The new building will be Whitehorse’s emergency hub, minus the ambulance services. The territory has backed out of its commitment to share the construction costs and place ambulance services in the facility.

During the last election campaign, the Yukon Party platform included a promise to locate the ambulance station in the new fire hall.

But by December, the Fentie government had reneged on the deal, said acting city manager Robert Fendrick.

“(In December) we said, ‘Look, you’re going to have to make up your mind now whether you’re going to co-locate or not,’” he said. “They said, ‘No, we’re not going to co-locate.’ So currently they have no plans to co-locate with us.”

Now the city will shoulder the full cost of the new building.

The new fire hall will not replace the one on Second Avenue. The city plans to keep that one open.

“The current plan is to maintain two operating fire halls,” said Fendrick.

The city will not have to buy more fire trucks or hire more firefighters to fill the two stations, said Sparks.

The new station will house its current complement of vehicles — a ladder truck, two pumper trucks and a response vehicle — while the Second Avenue fire hall will keep its pumper truck and rescue vehicle.

Currently there are four shifts of five people between the old Two Mile Hill fire hall and the Second Avenue fire hall and that will not change, said Sparks.

When the new fire hall is built, two firefighters will be stationed in each building 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with one firefighter on holiday.

There will also be a pool of 30 volunteer firefighters to draw from in the event of a large emergency, said Sparks.

But the question remains, how is the city going to pay for the building, which seems to be increasing in price every month?

This year, the city has budgeted $1 million from building reserves and had planned on borrowing $5 million to complete the project.

 “You can see the problem,” said Fendrick. “We have a $6-million budget and a $9-million cost, so that’s where I would caution that we do need to work through the numbers further with council.”

The scope of the project must be reduced, or alternate financing must be found, he added.

“That discussion just hasn’t happened yet.”

The city plans to borrow the money from the territorial government or apply for a mortgage through the open market.

To prevent the cost of the new building from escalating further between now and when they break ground, the $9-million figure includes a 25-per-cent contingency factor.

So if the prices of steel or other construction costs rise, they should be covered, said Fendrick.

 “We would want to make sure we had our funding in order before we went to tender and that’s why we’re taking our time with the negotiations and with our analysis,” said Fendrick.

The project might be tendered in 2008.

Because of its planning, the city has missed this year’s building season.