As a municipality we have to be creative. When it comes to funding we need to chase every grant we can get our hands on, leverage our reserves and partners, look at interest rates, look into possible investments and debentures.
Our goal is to be able to provide the best service to you the residents for the best, and lowest cost. Like Slave Lake most municipalities are not cash rich and so they often have to say “no” to new things.
Add onto that the current state of the Alberta economy, and you can definitely feel the pressure. With that being said, sometimes you can use an economic downturn to your, and the town’s advantage.
One of the issues that was brought to our attention during the capital project budget process this year was what to do with our ever changing, and aging firehall.
I myself was on the fire department for several years and I can tell you it was a highlight of my life. The ability to get involved, give back, and make a difference in residents’ lives was very rewarding. This partnered with the level of training our department provides to its volunteers, and diversity of the calls they are involved in make it a pretty interesting volunteer experience.
So what is going on with the firehall number 1? First off, it requires some much needed improvements. We have seen a dramatic rise in the amount of women joining our fire service which leads to issues with numbers of washrooms, change rooms, and showers.
Newer firehalls are built with better ventilation systems for the firefighters’ gear, in-house laundry facilities, and better equipped change rooms for both men and women. Newer firehalls are designed to keep firefighters safe when they come back from calls covered in toxic chemicals from being in fires, motor vehicle accidents etc.
The current fire department has utilized every corner they can in Fire Hall 1, which is over 40 years old and started out as a car wash.
The fire service isn’t the only emergency service that is under growth constraints. Getting space for ambulances, and the paramedics, in Slave Lake is an important capital project within Alberta Health Service (AHS). Add to that our RCMP will some day outgrow the current space detachment, and you can see we have some growing pains developing.
Council has been lobbying the Alberta government to put an Emergency/Firesmart training center here in Slave Lake. We want to be able to pass on some of the valuable things lessons we have learned and better equip communities to deal with disaster. We are currently working with the province on the development of a program to train four Firesmart/structure protection teams that will be used throughout the province. These Firesmart groups will need space and storage to be able to do learn and train.
You might be getting the picture we have lots of balls bouncing around here.
Over the last year we have been waiting for some of these balls to align. Like our day to day lives, things don’t come together in a neat perfect line, and this isn’t any different. A lot of these projects that we have in the air are just that a work in progress slowing coming down to reality.
So, during the capital budget process this year, council asked administration to look into two different paths for the fire department. Path one was to look at at buildings in Slave Lake, for the potential new home of a firehall. The second path was how much would it cost to upgrade the current firehall on caribou trail.
Right now there is a lot of shop space out there for sale, and maybe we should use that to our advantage. As we worked through budget this fall we started crunching the numbers. Immediate needs to our Firehall would require hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of work. An estimate done by one of our contractors in 2014 pegged renovations to our Firehall around the $2-million mark.
We looked at several buildings and settled in on a property on Caribou trail across from Big Fish Bay. The building was much larger than the current firehall footprint. It has additional bay space, more offices and storage, washrooms, shower space, increased training space and the list went on. Add to that the fact that the property has 15 acres for future growth and revenue generation, and things began to look pretty attractive. The new property would have enough land to subdivide and turn some of it into industrial land if we ever needed to recoup some funds. The property was big enough we could eventually work up to building a “Super Center” for our emergency services.
While our current firehall may not sell right away, it is nonetheless valued at an estimated $1-million and will eventually sell, significantly reducing the cost to the Town.
Obviously the both options looked great, but it always comes down to money. The appraisal on the proposed building last year was $4-million. We began working with the current ownership and made an offer of $2.65 million dollars.
This $2.65-million offer was accepted, and the best news came internally as council leveraged some of our Provincial grants and our reserves to pay for the building without the purchase affecting your taxes.
In the end it was a unanimous decision from council. We believe the purchase of this property helps position the Town, and the Fire Department for the future. This purchase will provide us with many different options, and ideally we think this will save us money down the road.
In the end only time will tell us if we made the right decision.