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Community divided over suitable fire hall location

Open house attendees and survey respondents had differing ideas on fire hall location
Fernie Fire and Rescue team stands in front of their former fire hall at 692 3 Ave. The city is still considering a new permanent location with help from Arcadis Architects Inc and the two final locations of choice are 902 2 Ave. and 1500 5 Ave. (Photo courtesy of Brendan Morgan).

*Note to Reader: The Free Press was notified on Dec. 6 that the City of Fernie has changed the date for final decision on the location of the new fire hall. Initially, council was going to choose a new fire hall location at a meeting on Dec. 12, but they have now deferred their decision to January to give themselves more time to consider all the details. The story has been updated to reflect this.

Results from an online survey and multiple stages of community engagement indicate that Fernie residents are divided over a location for the new fire hall.

In October, the City of Fernie announced it had narrowed down the search for a new fire hall to two final locations — 902 2 Ave. and 1500 5 Ave. The former is located in Fernie’s downtown core, while the later is situated within Prentice Park.

Initial engagements were carried out with Fernie Fire and Emergency Services Department, businesses and the Fire Hall Replacement Community Working Group. This was followed by a public open house on Oct. 26, which saw the attendance of more than 80 people, and an online survey which ran for a week and a half starting Oct. 27, and received responses from 460 people.

Results from these various stages of consultation indicate that the population of Fernie has differing views on which site would be most suitable.

The majority of open house attendees showed a preference for the 5 Ave. location, as many felt that the 2 Ave. site would be best kept for commercial and residential use.

Stakeholders like emergency services, the working group and the internal business unit also showed a preference for 5 Ave. for similar reasons as open house attendees, but also due to the site’s larger size and greater potential for co-use opportunities. While the city’s main priority is to build a fire hall, it will consider creating space within the building that other community groups and organizations could use.

“They were concerned around the best use for that land and maximizing the value of the city’s land assets,” said the city’s director of asset management Lisa Janssen.

Community consultation showed that there was overall strong support for co-use opportunities, and popular ideas included creating space for childcare services, other emergency services and a multi-purpose community area.

The majority of online survey respondents expressed concern over the 5. Ave. location due to potential loss of community green space in Prentice Park.

“There was a very strong opposition to site two [5 Ave.] due to the possible loss of a ball diamond coupled with potential negative events, traffic events and disruption to school activities,” Janssen explained.

A 3.5 acre section of land has been identified as a potential fire hall site within Prentice Park, so the majority of green space would be left untouched. However, it would result in the loss of one of two baseball diamonds.

The 5 Ave. location is situated at the north end of the city. It is adjacent to the Elk Valley Hospital and Fernie Community Eco Garden, and is surrounded by residential buildings to the west and south. Directly to the east, is an outdoor running track and open field that is used by Isabella Dicken Elementary School and Fernie Secondary School through a joint-use outdoor recreation agreement. The RCMP detachment is one block away and the British Columbia Ambulance Service two blocks away.

The 2 Ave. site is situated downtown on a plot of land that is currently empty. The railway tracks lie to the east and School District Five’s Neighbourhood Learning Centre, and its bus storage facility and maintenance yard, are to the south. There are residential buildings to the north and west. Land that has been designated for the future extension of 9 St. is also situated nearby.

Town council will take information from the various stages of consultation into account when it makes a final decision on the location of the fire hall in January. Information gathered from the public will be considered alongside a technical report from Arcadis Architects Inc. The report examined each site for construction and design-related specifics like ease of accessibility for emergency vehicles, proximity to utilities, readiness for development and buildability, and various operational requirements like emergency response travel time and distance.