$1.2 million burned up by Renfrew firehouse reno

Post by Mike Klassen in

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Firehall No. 15 retrofit should please a handful of heritage boosters

Vancouver City Manager Penny Ballem slipped in a late distribution report into the upcoming City Council meeting package recommending approval of Raymond Louie & Kerry Jang's $10.3 million pet project, the retrofit of the nearly century old wood Firehall No. 15 building. Despite the staff report stating that the structure "has far exceeded its life expectancy," it is being renovated to house additional firefighting equipment.

CityCaucus.com raised questions about what many, including members of the Vancouver Fire Department, deemed as an unnecessary expense during challenging economic times. In spite of the endorsement by heritage advocates, Firehall No. 15 is a passable heritage structure set on an extraordinary East Vancouver location. As Coun. Suzanne Anton has argued, surely Vancouver's talented architecture community can create an iconic public building that satisfies the requirements of Renfrew's emergency services needs, while also pleasing the eye?

Vision's plan of retrofitting This Old Firehouse reminds me of one of my favourite books as a kid (which although a little battered I still own and now read to my child) titled Why I Built the Boogle House. It's a charming tale of a young boy who took some scrap wood, a handful of nails and a saw to build a shelter for a pet turtle.

But the turtle ran away overnight, and instead of being dejected the lad got a kitten. The new pet required a retrofit of the turtle house, so he went back to his wood, hammer and nails and built a larger pet domicile.

Eventually the boy traded up - a rabbit, a dog, a goat, finally a horse. Each time he renovated his wood structure to suit the bigger animal. The horse pushed the limits of what was allowed in his residential neighbourhood (although we can imagine Vision is giving consideration to this idea), and instead of tossing his handywork he just redecorated it into his Boogle House.

Firehall No. 15 is going to be Vancouver's $10 million Boogle House. Instead of creating a critical amenity for the Refrew-Collingwood neighbourhood that will evoke pride in nearby neighbours, as well as in the fire fighters who get to work in it, we're spending limited tax dollars unnecessarily to make this old building suit 21st Century needs.

Only Clrs. Jang and Louie really know why.

Despite claims by them that this project is widely supported in Renfrew-Collingwood, only one person, a heritage advocate, bothered to show up to council on the issue. Granted, this item was slipped in at the last minute, so it is likely most taxpayers aren't even aware it was on the agenda.

It's worth noting the following excerpt from the staff report:

...the cost differential assignable to the heritage restoration option is approximately $1.2 million. This additional cost arises from the requirement to deal with hazardous materials abatement, more carefully executed demolition, upgrading of the retained building to post-disaster standards, and associated additional soft costs.

For those of you who think the current decaying structure will in any way retain a link to its heritage roots, think again. Vision's decision to spend an additional $1.2 million dollars to save a heritage building will result in the following according to staff:

In order to achieve the required functional programming requirements and to upgrade the structure to meet all the building code and post-disaster requirements, major intervention into the existing facility would have to be undertaken. This would include the following additional works:

  • Removal of the deteriorated roof structure, decking and roof membrane
  • Removal of the exterior stucco cladding and removal or reuse of original cedar siding
  • Demolition of the interior walls for the new functional design
  • Removal of environmental contaminates in existing materials that may contain lead,
  • asbestos, PCB, or mould
  • Installation of a new roof structure on the existing framing structure
  • Installation of new interior and/or exterior sheathing diaphragm for lateral resistance
  • Installation of new steel structure to reinforce the wood frame structure
  • Installation of new interior walls to suit functional program
  • Installation of new exterior walls
  • Raising the entire structure for the demolition and removal of the existing structural
  • foundation and construction of a new foundation
  • Excavation and construction of underground parking area
  • Salvage and restoration of potential heritage character elements such as siding,
  • triangular eave brackets, pressed tin ceiling, brass pole, wooden windows, and
  • finished wood treatments where possible; and
  • Construction of a new addition to provide three(3) vehicle bays.

Restoration activities will include the following where possible:

  • Retention or replication of original exterior cedar;
  • Re-use of original heritage elements such as eave brackets, tin ceiling, fire pole, etc;
  • Restoration of original balcony design on the front elevation;
  • Replacing the main apparatus doors;
  • Rebuilding of the steel roofs over the apparatus doors;
  • Repair or replication of the original wood trims; and
  • Retention and repair of existing granite walls on south and west elevations.

In the end, the debate to spend $1.2 million tax dollars on restoring a decrepit old firehall started at 12:19 pm and lasted until 12:25 pm. That includes a five minute presentation from the heritage advocate.

After years of debate and rancor, Raymond Louie finally won the day. Unfortunately, it's now taxpayers that are on the hook for his & Councillor Jang's vanity project. That $1.2 million could have gone to parks, community centres or to improve Vancouver's public realm, instead we are getting a heritage structure devoid of any heritage.

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