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Port Moody fire hall approved

After months of debate at Port Moody city hall and a very public spat with the city's firefighters union, Port Moody city council narrowly voted Tuesday to build a new $11-million Port Moody Fire Department headquarters close to its present site.

After months of debate at Port Moody city hall and a very public spat with the city's firefighters union, Port Moody city council narrowly voted Tuesday to build a new $11-million Port Moody Fire Department headquarters close to its present site.

The 4-3 vote saw councillors Mike Clay, Diana Dilworth and Bob Elliott come out against the plan from the city's specially appointed fire hall task force. The plan calls for the city to borrow up to $9 million next year to build a new three-storey Fire Hall No. 1 on a wedge of land between Ioco Road, Newport Drive and Knowle Street.

The plan, approved by councillors Meghan Lahti, Gerry Nuttall, Karen Rockwell and Mayor Joe Trasolini, allows for $2 million to be spent from the city's land-sale and development reserves to cover the remaining building costs.

The city now has six months and $1 million to finalize detailed building designs before site-preparation is slated to begin in January 2012, with construction to begin the following June.

Those councillors who very nearly voted down the new fire hall plan said they were not opposed to building a new hall per se, but were skeptical of some details in the plan like the hall's proposed location and budget.

Before the vote, those councillors - Clay, Dilworth and Eilliott - questioned the task force's expertise in assessing building costs for fire services and suggested that changing plans for the fire hall after Port Moody voters had already approved a $16-million loan to build a replacement hall on the current Ioco Road and Murray Street location, made the referendum a waste of time.

"I worry that - doing what we've gone through and building this fire hall - it just comes in over budget and ends up being $14 million anyhow," Coun. Clay said. "That's a track record thing more than a personal opinion."

Coun. Dilworth was not at the original council vote to form the fire hall task force following the April 16 referendum, but she said Tuesday that she would have voted in support of forming the exploratory group. However, she added, in her opinion, the task force's plan is so different from what was shown to the public before the April 16 vote that the whole process ought to go back to a public vote.

"I would be putting forth the recommendation that this entire plan first of all go to professionals to review, because this is a plan that has been put together by a task committee that are not architects, they're not traffic engineers," she said. "And I would also support this entire plan going back to the public."

Task force members Coun. Karen Rockwell and Meghan Lahti fired back over the allegations from councillors and the firefighters union that the new hall was too small and, as Coun. Dilworth suggested, only useful to the city for a maximum of five to 10 years.

Citing the in-house engineering and urban planning expertise of city manager and task force member Gaetan Royer, and the constructive input and approval of fire department brass, Coun. Lahti contended that the new plans provide for a "state-of-the-art post-disaster building" to house the city's fire department headquarters for decades to come.

And if the city could do that while saving $5 million from the initial $16-million plan, then "$5 million is worth saving," said Mayor Trasolini, weighing in on the side of the task force and swaying the final vote.

"Would you not take a look at a project that you're paying out of your own pocket for if at some point in the process you found out that something didn't really add up?," Mayor Trasolini asked rhetorically, adding that planned spending on the hall had spun out of control in the lead-up to the $16-million referendum. "You wouldn't do that in your home, you don't expect me to do that with your money. I will walk out of this job before I do what is politically expedient."

Port Moody firefighters will remain in the Fire Hall No.1 building until the anticipated two-year completion of the new hall in the summer of 2013. At that point, the current hall will be boarded up and left vacant for a future city council to decide what to do with the city-owned land.

That decision not to demolish the existing hall was one of the cost-cutting measures that contributed to the $5-million savings. In leaving the old hall untouched, the city will not have to spend an estimated $700,000 for a temporary fire hall and also counts among its savings the removal of a previous demolition budget to tear down the old hall, something which the city will have to shell out for eventually, however.

Other cost-saving measures include $1.6 million recouped by shaving 5,000 sq. ft. from the original building design, including axing plans for a second conference room and a second recreational patio for firefighters.

The city will also forego Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification for the building - a savings of $100,000 - though the plans still call for full compliance with LEED standards without the official designation from the Canada Green Building Council.

The new hall will accommodate space for the addition of one more fire truck to the current No. 1 hall's fleet of seven should the city require it in the future.

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