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The burning question around town



To all those who wanted the Fernie firehall located at 902 Second Avenue, I apologize. It’s obvious city councillors decided to spite me and my prediction that they would pick the 902 site and, instead, went with Prentice Park.

“That’ll teach him,” was reportedly heard emanating from the community’s elected braintrust.

Seriously, the decision to locate the firehall at Prentice Park was a bit of surprise. I haven’t talked to anyone who thinks it’s a good decision.

“What’s wrong with the 902 location?” “What’s wrong with the empty lot by the Red Apple?” “Why can’t they tear down the old one on Third Avenue and build it there?” “Why can’t they tear down the Community Centre and build it there?”

These are all questions, usually laced with expletives aimed at city council, that I’ve heard over the last week. And they are questions that the city hasn’t done a good job of explaining to the community.

However, in fairness, if council had chosen the 902 location, there would likely be criticism of that decision too. As the old saying goes, “you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”

The Prentice Park location, though, makes the least sense. A firehall should be located as near to the geographic centre of its service area as possible. Of the four spots bandied about, the Prentice Park location is least closest to the geographic centre of town, especially considering the majority of new development is happening on the west side of town. Granted, we’re only talking a three- or four-block difference, but in times of emergency, those couple of minutes could make all the difference in the world.

Plus, I don’t buy the argument that there is a benefit to being close to other emergency services like the ambulance station, hospital, and RCMP. Yes, it’s closer, but none of those service have to be physically close to each other to perform at a high level.

The missing piece in all this discussion is cost.

How much will the new firehall cost?

City CAO Michael Boronowski told The Free Press last week that while cost estimates and a funding plan still need to be developed, it is highly likely the city will need to borrow some amount of money for the project.

That raises the question: Is the Prentice Park site more costly than the 902 site? Or vice versa? We just don’t know, so why are we choosing now? (OK, that was more than one question.)

The irony in all this is that the residents of Fernie will have they final say when the matter goes to a referendum. The city will undoubtedly have to borrow money for the firehall. To borrow money, likely in the $10-15 million range, it will have to seek approval from the electorate. It shouldn’t, but it could turn out to be a referendum on location.

That will be a harder sell for the city than simply needing a new firehall, which should be a slam dunk.

Bill Phillips is an award-winning columnist with 35 years of experience in community journalism.

Carolyn Grant

About the Author: Carolyn Grant

I have been with the Kimberley Bulletin since 2001 and have enjoyed every moment of it.
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