An East Vancouver firehall has become a Vision Vancouver sacred cow. Nobody yet seems to understand why.
CityCaucus.com has obtained a copy of an email from City Councillor Raymond Louie where he chastises a colleague for requesting additional public input on a multi-million dollar Council decision.
Last Tuesday without any notice, Louie introduced a motion at the end of a long meeting where he asked Council to begin work on the restoration of the 1913-era Firehall No. 15 in East Vancouver's Renfrew-Collingwood neighbourhood. NPA Councillor Suzanne Anton used her right to 'call notice' on the $4.9 million motion to spend current and past capital plan funding, in order to allow the public a final opportunity review and provide feedback on this important and expensive decision.
Ever the diplomat, Louie bedevils his political opponents. In the email he says Anton "continues the opposition" to the firehall restoration project, and describes how the past NPA council "refused to allocate funding" for Firehall No. 15. By the way, you're in government now, Raymond.
It is estimated that keeping the shell of this old building and reconstructing it as a 3-bay firehall could cost upwards of $10 million dollars. For millions less a new, state-of-the-art iconic Renfrew-Collingwood landmark firehall could be created in its place.
Heritage Vancouver have put the building on its 2008 "Top Ten" endangered city heritage sites. But even Heritage Vancouver does not want the City's compromise "3 bay" retrofit of the old building – they want the old building restored. However, the wood structure does not meet current safety codes for public buildings. The City requires this site is to be retained as a location for a firehall, and the old building's bay doors are inadequate for modern fire fighting vehicles. Firehall No. 15 simply doesn't work as a modern firehall, in a community that needs one. So what then?
Fire fighters, including the Fire Chief, are on the record as wanting a new building, but since the fire fighter's union have been overtly supportive of Vision Vancouver, they've not dared to cross Louie and his colleagues on this file. Here is what the Fire Chief had to say about this issue in a 2006 staff report:
The Fire Chief concurs with the City Manager’s conclusion that favours the redevelopment based on the three-bay configuration in Consideration A (i). The Fire Chief also strongly supports the three-bay firehall design as originally approved in principle in the 2003 – 2005 Capital Plan, with funding subsequently approved in the 2006 – 2008 Capital Plan. Construction of a new firehall presents a rare opportunity to design for both present and future operational needs. The new firehall design will respect both the heritage and rich history of Fire’s past while also improving the operational response capability for a safer community.
It's pretty clear from the Chief's comments that he sees the firehall as less of a local museum piece, and more of a place to house the men and women who will help protect local homes and businesses in case of emergency.
So, City staff and the Fire Chief are recommending a new building, rank and file fire fighters want a new building, heritage advocates don't want a hack retrofit of the old building, and the citizens of Renfrew-Collingwood are at greater risk by not having modern emergency services in their midst. Add the fact that Vancouver's economy is in a slump, and that Vision want to spend an extra $2 million tax dollars on a nice, but antiquated piece of Vancouver nostalgia.
Can anyone but Vision Vancouver actually make sense of their decision-making? Put your hands up if you are as confused as me.
Councillor Louie, sounding clearly annoyed by notice being called on his motion, writes that Anton's move would be:
"...delaying the start of work for at least another two weeks."
Decisions on Firehall No. 15 have been in limbo for over 2 years. It's under a tarp. Why would another 2 weeks create a problem? Only Louie knows.
Such is the sometimes odd politics of Vancouver, where the battle over heritage sometimes clouds the way toward the right decision. Does nobody think the City can build something even more beautiful and iconic in that location?
Here is a complete copy of Louie's email to his supporters.
Subject: SAVING FIREHALL No. 15
It has been some time since I last communicated with you on the issue of saving Fire Hall No. 15, as this was due to the fact that the last NPA dominated council refused to allocate the necessary funding to save it. However there is good news, the last election resulted in a Vision Vancouver majority which now makes it possible to fund and save this important building in our city.
Today I Moved and Councilor Kerry Jang Seconded the attached motion to finally start the process to preserve Fire Hall No. 15 as part of a new Fire Hall facility. Unfortunately, opposition by NPA Councilor Susanne Anton continues and Notice of Motion was called, delaying the start of work for at least another two weeks.
Council will now consider my motion on February 3rd 2009 and if there are requests to speak it will be set over to a committee meeting on February 5th 2009. I have included some information below if you are interested in speaking to council on the importance of saving Fire Hall No. 15 or you could contact Councilor Anton by email directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Councillor, City of Vancouver
PS Do you really need to print this email? Think green!