Referendum votes pass, new pool, fire hall to be built
City taxpayers passed Saturday’s referendum to replace the downtown fire hall and build a new Four Seasons Pool.
A total of 6,520 voters (82.79 per cent of the vote) want the city to borrow $15 million to replace the downtown fire hall while 1,355 (17.21 per cent) voted against the proposal.
The city’s proposal to borrow $35 million to replace the Four Seasons Pool drew 4,923 yes votes (62.48 per cent) and 2,956 (37.52 per cent) voted against it.
Pending final approval, the city will replace the main fire hall downtown with a more centrally-located hall on the southwest corner of Massey Drive and Carney Street next to the YMCA. That would increase the hall’s eight-minute response zone by close to 50 per cent, according to Prince George Fire Rescue.
General voting day ballots showed 5,036 yes votes and 1,089 no votes for the new fire hall. The advance poll had 1,378 in favour and 258 against. Mail-in ballots were 106 in favour and there were eight against.
“This referendum result will give us an opportunity to improve what is already a really terrific service and allow us to provide that to the city,” said PGFR chief John Iverson.
“The city has grown from its footprint in 1956 (when Fire Hall No. 1 opened) and it’s clearly grown south and west and the fire hall location was good in 1956 but looking at it today it’s not in the right location. This is a great opportunity to move that hall to a proper location as well as have our staff operating our of modern facility where we can properly staff our trucks and put the right trucks in the right location.”
The referendum gives the city the go-ahead to build a new Four Seasons Pool at 600 Quebec St. The site’s current occupant, the Days Inn, will be torn down and the city will need to purchase the building for $4.5 million. That cost, as well as the estimated $2.5 million to demolish the old pool and the hotel, are not included in the $35 million but will be covered by other city sources.
The city has said the existing Four Seasons pool no longer meets safety standards and would have needed $10.3 million worth of updates just to meet immediate needs. The new pool will include a therapy-toddler pool, a leisure pool with a wading zone, play features and a slide.
The pool replacement general voting day results drew 3,683 votes in favour and 2,446 against. The advance poll had 1,150 yes votes and 487 no votes. There were 90 votes in favour in the mail-in poll and 23 against.
The downtown fire hall serves as a base for a crew of seven fire suppression staff to provide 24-hour coverage every day of the year. There are also a minimum of two dispatchers there every hour of every day. It’s also the base for two training staff members and for fire prevention and clerical staff as well.
Businesses in the BCR industrial site in the south end if the city off Highway 97 will be among several locations which will benefit from the move to a new fire hall location, says Iverson.
“This will allow us to get our crews to many more addresses within eight minutes and that’s really important in fire fighting because it gives you the best opportunity to confine the fire to the room of origin where it started.
“That reduces property loss and reduces risk of death and injury to the citizens As first responders we want to get to people that need our help as quickly as possible and we’ve just decreased the response time to so many more people in the city by moving that fire hall to a better location.”
A total of 7,875 city residents voted in the referendum.
Leading up to the vote, acting on the facilities audit, city council held several public information sessions, including tours of the existing fire hall and pool and provided an information video in addition to explaining the need for the replacement of both buildings.
“We really wanted residents to be informed so that they could make a decision on what they wanted to do and with Fire Hall No. 1 what it may have boiled down to is public safety and the key around that was the standards of coverage and the fact the fire hall is old and needs a considerable amount of work,” said Mayor Lyn Hall.
“The pool got 60-plus per cent of the vote and that was a message from the residents that they recognize that the Four Seasons Pool is old as well and it needed a tremendous amount of work. It just wasn’t going to work by shutting that one down for a couple years and building a new one in the same location. We knew that one pool – the Aquatic Centre – couldn’t handle extra 100,000 or 115,000 visits a year. There are a tremendous amount of people who use that pool and the pool in its location downtown provides an attraction and hopefully people will spend more time downtown. We wanted to make that one of the focal points of downtown.”
Hall said the next step for the city is to decide on a design for both new buildings, which he said will take the better part of next year. Construction for the pool and fire hall will likely begin late in 2018 or early in 2019. Hall said the pool replacement project will require about two years to complete. The new fire hall will likely be finished in 2019.
On Saturday city voters approved a referendum to replace Fire Hall No. 1, seen above, and the Four Seasons Pool.