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New fire hall approved, but at twice the expected cost

Published on

Cathy Dobson

Sarnia is getting a new $7.3-million fire hall this year to replace the aging station at the corner of Colborne Road and Michigan Avenue.

“I’ve got to be honest, it’s a great relief,” Fire Chief Bryan Van Gaver said following council’s unanimous approval on Feb. 28.

“It’s a relief to finally move forward. It’s been a long time coming.”

Station #3 serves the city’s north end, the downtown core, Sandy Lane, and several nursing homes. Last year, the station responded to 749 calls.

It’s been 10 years since the almost 70-year-old fire hall was earmarked for replacement.

It can’t accommodate the large fire engines needed to fight highrise fires today. It has no space to decontaminate clothing and equipment, and lacks separate washrooms for men and women.

The new station will have 8,500 square feet of space – 70% larger than the current one – and two bays instead of one. It will go up west of the existing station, with space for trucks to leave on Colborne and return on Michigan.

“I look forward to cutting the ribbon,” said Chief Van Gaver. If construction moves along as quickly as planned, the new station could be finished by the end of this year.

Several councillors said they were shocked that the lowest construction bid came in twice the estimated price.

Last April, the price of a new station was pegged at $3.5 million. When it went out for tender this year, the low bid was $7.39 million, including HST, and a 10% contingency budget for unforeseen costs.

Before accepting the bid from Concord-based Quad Pro Construction Inc., several councillors commented about the surprising increase.

“Why is this two times the cost? Do we need that much of a building?” asked Coun. Terry Burrell.

“Anytime we downscale with an eye to adding on later, it never happens,” replied Mayor Mike Bradley. “If you’re going to do it right, do it right the first time.”

Van Gaver told council he too was concerned about the price hike, but had confidence in the tendering process. The company was unanimously chosen by the entire project team, he said.

The chief blamed the pandemic for driving up the price of construction materials.

It’s unfortunate the fire hall replacement was consistently “put on the backburner” while prices rose, he said.

If anything can be learned, it’s that delays lead to higher capital costs, said Coun. Brian White. “The exorbitant cost should be a lesson to us.”

Coun. Mike Stark sought to have the city borrow a portion of the money. But council voted to pay the entire $7.3 million from the city’s capital budget and federal gas tax funds.

Van Gaver said he hopes to meet with the contractor in the coming days to get the ball rolling on construction.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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