Fire chief yanked from construction project

Winnipeg fire Chief Reid Douglas has been pulled from the construction project for a new fire hall on Portage Avenue.
Construction of a new fire hall in Winnipeg is facing cost overruns, prompting the mayor to pull fire Chief Reid Douglas from the project. 1:51

Winnipeg fire Chief Reid Douglas has been pulled from the construction project for a new fire hall on Portage Avenue.

Mayor Sam Katz has instead put the city's property and planning department in charge of the job, citing cost overruns due to expanded building plans as his reason for making the change.

The size of the fire hall near the Route 90 and Portage cloverleaf has expanded by 3,500 square feet since the construction and design plans were tendered, from 10,500 square feet to 14,000 square feet.

That means the project's $5.8-million budget will be pushed much higher.

Katz said he doesn't know who ordered changes to the building's size, or what is planned for the extra space, but he said Douglas should not have been put in charge of the project in the first place.

"The true process would be for property and planning to be in charge of the building," he said.

"That is one change that I can tell you has already taken place. I mean, the fire chief does a great job of being a fire chief. He's not supposed to be in charge of projects."

Hazmat unit staying in St. Boniface

Alex Forrest, president of Winnipeg's firefighter's union, said he had heard the space may be used to move the hazardous materials unit out of St. Boniface, a move that he would oppose.

"That in itself could be worse than the actual cost overrun for the services to the city," he said, referring to the importance of keep the unit near the St. Boniface industrial park.

On Oct. 1, explosions and flames ripped through a racing fuel plant in St. Boniface, prompting officials to briefly order the evacuation of about 100 nearby homes.

On Thursday, Katz said the hazardous materials unit will stay in St. Boniface.

"It's not moving anywhere," he said.

The Portage Avenue fire hall is part of a controversial land swap deal at the city which will soon be reviewed by external auditors.

And Reid, the head of Winnipeg's Fire Paramedic Service, was thrust into the spotlight of that controversy when he revealed he had arranged a verbal agreement with Shindico Realty on the land swap.

"Obviously, this whole thing is incredibly unacceptable," said Coun. Jeff Browaty.

"We're going through a full formal review to see what went wrong, why it went wrong. I mean, we can't leave a partially built fire hall."

A report on the Portage Avenue fire hall situation is expected within the month.