Billings fire hall renos stayed due to structural problems

Billings fire hall renos stayed due to structural problems.

KAGAWONG—With recently discovered major structural problems with the Billings township fire hall, the extensive renovation that had been planned for the building has been suspended. On the advice of its engineer project manager, council has agreed to direct township staff to look at the costs and work involved in shoring up the building, or demolishing the entire building and rebuilding.
“With the issues facing us today, our engineer has provided us two viable options,” said Billings Mayor Bryan Barker. “Financially they seem to be the two most acceptable viable options.”

Dan Moody, project manager of Tulloch Engineering told council, “In 2022 we undertook a design for the preferred extensive renovations and upgrade of the fire hall. The work contract includes a new roof, metal siding with insulation, all exterior doors and windows and windows being replaced and the mezzanine left, extensive removal of drywall and strapping, as well as all new mechanical and electrical that would provide for 25 years of life for the building.”

“Once the interior finishes were removed it was determined that a series of horizontal mortar joints had become vertically separated due to advanced corrosion of the steel lintels over the windows and doors,” Mr. Moody explained. “The extents of this cracking were not previously known due to the high degree of relief on the exterior of the concrete masonry units and the finishes present on the interior of the walls.”

“High wind conditions acting on the weakened walls have resulted in breakdown of the mortar joints,” continued Mr. Moody. “Portions of the south wall have shifted noticeably from their original alignment. The blocks have been exposed to the weather, ideal for retaining snow, ice and rain. The building is presently unsafe for occupancy.”

Mr. Moody noted the extent of the damage to the building was not known until recently. “What has happened is that the windows have corroded significantly, they lifted the blocks on the south wall. And once separated it is hard to maintain the integrity of the wall,” said Mr. Moody. “The wall is failing and there has been wall movement over time and this will cause damage. The masonry is not resilient once it starts to move under pressure.” He noted the wall has “a definite lean to it.”

“This is a dynamic situation,” said Mr. Moody. “Understandably, the contractors have reservations about going into the building.
A release from the township November 11 warns residents that the entire area surrounding the fire hall and 91 Main Street, Kagawong has been fenced off to the public.”

Tulloch, in collaboration with the general contractor, has worked on developing design and methods to shore up and repair the wall, so that the originally planned renovation work could continue.

“And further into winter, repointing of masonry during the winter becomes challenging,” said Mr. Moody. He explained Tulloch has reviewed the structural condition of the building and subsequently provided two recommendations to the township. The first option is to install temporary shoring and sequentially remove and reconstruct the complete south wall. Structural reinforcing would also be provided at other affected areas of the building. The second option is to demolish the fire hall and construct a new building on the existing foundation at the same size and configuration.

Councillor Dave Hillyard question how much of the project has been completed thus far. “I would suggest no more than 20 percent of the physical work has been done, maybe 25 percent,” said Mr. Moody, “with more in terms of material being delivered to the site and materials that have been paid for.”

Mr. Moody was asked for his opinion. He explained, “there is no way to salvage the new roof. It is a flat roof and to put personnel on top of it to do work is not possible.”

“If the building were knocked down, you indicate it would have to be of the same size. How much land is available behind the current building?” asked Councillor Jim Cahill.

Mr. Moody noted there is a drainage ditch close by, but said he doesn’t know if there are concerns with migrating birds and a holding tank and septic. He said if the space is amenable extending the building could be considered.

Council was told to take down and replace the south wall as a starting point which could approach $200,000 and another $25,000-30,000 with shoring up work.

“That is a fair chunk of change,” stated Councillor Vince Grogan. On possible reconstruction, he asked if the township has figures in the budget for this.

“That is why we are discussing this tonight and exploring this issue,” said Mayor Barker. “From our engineers’ report we should be considering shoring up or demolition.” He pointed out prepared financial figures are not on the table at this point for council to consider, but council can direct staff to look into this and provide figures.

“We are not in a position to make an informed decision tonight,” said Councillor Cahill. “I have no idea of the current financial situation of the township and recommend an update would be good, to see what our finances are and line of credit.” He also said a third option, of a building housing the fire hall which would include muti-facilities, could be looked at, along with any grants available.

Councillor Michael Hunt said it is imperative that staff provide more detailed costing on the two options, and if any financial help is available to the township.

Mayor Barker noted that when the tenders went out for options on the fire hall previously, having a new facility built off-site meant the costs increased exponentially. “As for green energy grants, this was looked at before, and there was nothing for construction at that time.”

“We have some suggestions made by our engineer and need a motion from council of what staff should be looking into and bring this back to council,” said Mayor Barker.

Council was told there would potentially be legal implications with changing the current work contract.
Councillor Grogan asked, “will the contractors be willing to look at the third option? I’m not saying the third option is not a good idea. One of my concerns is the legal ramifications (if the township changes the scope of the project). I don’t want to pay a fine if we don’t have to.”

“I agree,” stated Councillor Hillyard. “We have a fire department that needs a new building. And we risk bigger problems with fire trucks having to be left outside.”

Mayor Barker said “the fire department currently has no home. The fire trucks are being stored in the public works building. Time is of the essence. My feeling is we need to research the two options and if they don’t work out then we could look at the third option.” However, “when council previously considered the third option it was cost prohibitive and couldn’t be done.”

Council passed a motion in support (with Councillor Cahill casting the only vote opposing the motion), to have township staff look at the two options presented by Tulloch Engineering and costing and bring them back to council for consideration.