Township of Billings going forward with fire hall renovations

Billings Fire Hall.

KAGAWONG—Billings Township will move ahead with fire hall renovations. At a recent regular meeting, council members voted to retrofit the existing building over two other options that included replacing the fire hall at its existing location with a new build, or building a new, larger facility at an alternate location.

The motion to choose the renovation option was put forward by Councillor Sharon Jackson and seconded by Councillor Sharon Alkenbrack. The decision in favour of the motion was unanimous. This was the least expensive of the three options and is expected to cost approximately $556,250.

One of the reasons for supporting the option was the amount of time firefighters would have to be off-site. “They need a safe environment to work in,” she said, “along with having a place to train.”

“I agree,” said Councillor Michael Hunt. “There are so many issues and the (current) fire hall is in an excellent location. It’s best to renovate the building. We knew it’s been deteriorating for a number of years so let’s get a request for proposals (RFP) out.”

Councillor Alkenbrack was grateful to be moving forward on the issue. “I would like to give the firefighters a new building but it is not possible at this time. We have to renovate. Let’s get it done.”

A factor that hasn’t considered yet is mould, noted Mayor Anderson. “The mould issue is one we just can’t allow to continue. Sometimes the decision we make is not the best. If we had the luxury of putting off the decision for a year or two (for funding to possibly become available as well as time to deal with the mould issue), we could choose a new building but we’re kind of backed into a corner. The disrepair started years ago and the work didn’t get done.”

Mayor Anderson did have some concerns about the retrofit project. “We don’t have secure storage to move the fire equipment to. That will have to be moved to another building and is going to be difficult,” he pointed out. He wondered if it “would be a more realistic approach” to fix the mould issue by first gutting the building and replacing the insulation.

He was also concerned about timelines. “I am concerned about how realistic (timelines are). We have busy contractors on the Island. We may find that we have to deal with a company from off-Island.” He wondered if finding someone that can do all the renovation work within the calendar year would be difficult, noting previous experience and suggested allowing two years for completion.

“I’m speaking about the availability of professionals to get this work done,” clarified Mayor Anderson. “We’re not fully clear of COVID or its effects. I just wonder if time wise we’ll be able to do it all at once. We can cross that bridge when we come to it.”

Last fall, Billings Township contracted Tulloch Engineering to prepare a report on the fire hall renovation versus new build and  to examine the cost benefit and implications of the two approaches. The township had been aware for several years that the facility needed repairs or replacement.

Preliminary discussions on the three options presented in Tulloch’s report were discussed at a special council meeting on January 27. Options included the chosen retrofit, the demolition of the current fire hall and replacement on its existing footprint at an estimated cost of $845,000, or constructing a new, larger pre-engineered building at a to-be-determined location at an estimated cost of $1,753,875 (all estimates excluding site services and HST). Councillors discussed the merits and cons of each option and while there was no motion at that time, all council members indicated they were leaning towards the retrofit.

“It’s going to be new to us,” said Martin Connell, fire chief for the Billings Fire Department. “Basically, this will end up being a new fire hall with a new roof, better insulated walls and new plumbing and heating. We have struggled to maintain heating in the building for years, and water penetrates the windows and the back west wall where the roof slopes.”

“I’m just really glad the town has dealt with the issue,” Mr. Connell added. “The issue with the mould in the building was brought forward about 10 years ago. This is a workplace safety issue and I’m very happy they’re dealing with that concern.”

While it’s not within the current scope, a third bay or addition can be expanded in the future, Mr. Connell noted. The department would also like to acquire a pickup truck down the road to be able to gain quick access to fires in remote areas.

“My firefighters have expressed their concern at every practice we’ve had for the past few years,” said Mr. Connell. “A new fire hall would have been fantastic but the township doesn’t have the millions of dollars necessary to accommodate this. We are happy with the decision made by council.”