Ten years and $1.6 million after the plan was first floated, the District of North Vancouver Fire Department may be a couple months and a few metres from operating out of a new fire hall east of the Seymour River.
The $34-million plan is to replace both the fire station at 480 Mountain Hwy. and the St. Denis Avenue training centre with an all-in-one facility in Maplewood. But, given the proximity to wetlands and wildlife, a couple of councillors wondered if there might be some wiggle room on the 3.74-acre forested former landfill site.
“I would ask that we turn our minds – and open them a crack – to somehow preserving some of the forested area,” suggested Coun. Jim Hanson, challenging the idea that invasive species like blackberries “should all die.”
The station is slated to be built eight to 12 metres above grade, putting the fire hall above calamities including floods and chlorine gas leak plumes, according to a district staff report.
That elevation would also mean putting the fire hall on the northern end of the site and closer to the greenbelt, observed Coun. Lisa Muri.
“I’m not sure why we would want to elevate the fire hall,” she said. “All of the surrounding developments in the area are at-grade.”
Muri suggested they might be able to “pull the facility forward,” effectively protecting the mudflats while ensuring the fire hall is secure.
Following three years of planning and the rejection of eight alternate sites, the project is slated to go to tender this summer. In calling for community consultation, Muri raised concerns over the tight timeframe.
“It doesn’t sound like right now we have a lot of opportunity to even re-think anything,” she told district staff.
“I don’t think that there’s been adequate public process for this,” Coun. Megan Curren concurred, calling for the Wild Bird Trust to be included in consultation.
The new fire hall should allow for faster responses to Blueridge, Maplewood and Seymour, according to district Fire Chief Brian Hutchinson.
Both the Mountain Highway fire hall and the training centre are “approaching 40 years old, in poor condition, and deficient in function,” according to a staff report written by Hutchinson and Gavin Joyce, the district’s general manager of engineering, parks and facilities.
To emphasize the deficiency regarding classroom space, Hutchinson explained that the fire department is planning to host an upcoming disaster preparedness course: “in a large tent.”
The Lynn Valley hall’s roof, electrical, mechanical and life safety systems are “in need of replacement or renewal,” according to the report. The buildings also use twice as much energy and belches out more greenhouse gas than modern buildings.
Consolidating the facilities in Maplewood would cut capital costs by $15 million and reduce the land used by the fire department by 35 per cent.
The new station would also replace the administration component of Fire Hall No. 1 in Lynn Valley.
The current training centre can be accessed by one two-lane road, which could keep firefighters from answering a call if that road is blocked. The Lynnmour fire hall is “negatively impacted by traffic” which can cause a lag in response times, Hutchinson explained.
The Maplewood fire hall would also have gender neutral washrooms and separated resting quarters, “All in the hopes that this will also help us recruit women, enhance diversity within our organization,” Hutchinson said.
Formerly a demolition and construction landfill, the Maplewood site is contaminated with hydrocarbons, arsenic and zinc, according to a staff report.
It’s a field of debris, Mayor Mike Little noted.
“As you’re walking through there are busted up chunks of concrete with rebar sticking out, there is asphalt, there are metal pieces from who-knows-what,” he said.
The project is slated to remediate the soil and groundwater contamination and to remove invasive species.
The site would also have enough parking to keep firefighters from parking on residential streets and would have a buffer from neighbours, “who may otherwise find the training activities to be a nuisance,” according to the staff report.