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Scaled down PoMo fire hall expected to be approved

After months of public squabbling between Port Moody city hall and the firefighters' union, plans for a new fire hall are expected to be approved Tuesday by city council.

After months of public squabbling between Port Moody city hall and the firefighters' union, plans for a new fire hall are expected to be approved Tuesday by city council.

The plans include a scaled-down hall at a scaled-down cost compared to the $16-million, 25,000-sq. ft. hall Port Moody voters approved in an April 16 referendum.

The task force picked to draw up the new fire hall plans is also recommending a change of venue from the current location at the corner of Murray Street and Ioco Road. The report calls for an $11-million, 20,000 sq. ft. hall at Knowle Street and Newport Drive, a stone's throw from the current building and next door to city hall.

The Knowle Street site was previously intended to be the site of a temporary fire hall if construction of the $16-million replacement hall was to go ahead on the current site. Port Moody firefighters will instead remain in their current building while the new one is built, eliminating the need for a temporary hall and eliminating $700,000 from the previous budget.

The Port Moody firefighters' union, however, believes the Knowle Street site is simply too small to house a fire hall, according to union spokesperson Rob Suzukovich.

"It's just the size that's the problem. We're not opposed to moving away, exactly, as long as we're in the general vicinity there," Suzukovich said. "What's in question is will it truly fit? I haven't been convinced it will."

Coun. Gerry Nuttall, who, along with councillors Karen Rockwell and Meghan Lahti, acting fire chief Remo Faedo and firefighter Rob Shoucair, served on the fire hall task force, said he is not convinced by Suzukovich's argument.

"We think it will fit. The fire department representatives think that it will and if it doesn't, then we go back to something else. But every indication is that it will fit... All we are doing is substituting footprint square-footage for height."

Although the architectural plans are not expected to be finalized until December, Coun. Lahti said the new hall will likely be a three-storey building with an 8,500-sq. ft. footprint.

Of the $11-million fire hall budget, the task force is recommending the city borrow $9 million from the province and take the remaining $2 million from city coffers.

Coun. Rockwell, the task force chair, said Suzukovich's complaints on behalf of the union that the new hall will be too small are disingenuous.

"I'm not sure where Rob Suzukovich's comments about the fire hall being too small are coming from. The apparatus bay is larger than what they currently have and provides room for future expansion," Rockwell said. "If they're coming from the fact that we've reduced their leisure space and outdoor barbecue deck, then yes we have reduced that space. We've approached this from an operational need and not a desire perspective. And while a 1,400-square-foot leisure space and 900-square-foot barbecue deck would be seen as desirable, I don't think that's an effective use of taxpayer money and the task force obviously didn't either."

Coun. Nuttall said that following city council's decision to go against the April 16 public directive to borrow $16 million to build a large new fire hall on the current site, there was a public misconception that council was ignoring the referendum results.

Instead, he said, council took that authorization to borrow the money and had another look at how costs might be saved on the project.

"We didn't say no to the fire hall ever," Nuttall said. "We said no to the $16-million cost."

All city councillors have been kept informed of the fire hall task force's recommendations since the study group was established following the April 16 vote and council is therefore expected to vote unanimously in favour of the new hall recommendations.

Construction on the Knowle Street site is expected to begin early in 2012, with an anticipated completion time of two years.

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