British Columbia

New downtown swimming pool and fire hall top items in 'challenging' Prince George budget

City council in Prince George is being asked to replace the downtown fire hall and swimming pool at a combined cost of $50 million.

New downtown fire hall and swimming pool among big-ticket items before council

Prince George city council will debate millions in building upgrades at budget meetings on January 30 and February 1. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

Prince George Mayor Lyn Hall expects this year's budget talks to be one of the most challenging issues he's faced as a civic leader.

"Our buildings are getting old and we have big decisions to make," Hall said.

"Even the facilities that we don't think are very old, they're 20-plus years old and they need work. Those are the big expenditure items that are really at the forefront of my mind."

Fire hall old and in the wrong location

Fire Hall No. 1 in Prince George is no longer well positioned to respond to emergency calls, according to a 2014 report. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

Hall said he expects one major point of discussion to be replacing Fire Hall 1 in the city's downtown.

The issue was first raised in a 2014 report from the Fire Underwriters Survey, a national organization that evaluates the ability of communities to fight fires so insurance companies can set their annual rates.

In their first update for Prince George since the 1980s, the FUS found the downtown fire hall was no longer well-suited to respond to emergencies in a timely manner because of both its age and placement.

"When that location was selected, the city was geographically much different," said fire chief John Iverson. "If you were to try and locate a fire hall today, that wouldn't be the best place to put it."

National standards recommend fire halls be positioned so crews can reach any site in their service area within eight minutes in order to reduce the likelihood of major damage or fatalities.

In order to achieve that, the new hall would have to be built southwest of its current location in order to more rapidly deploy crews to industrial areas.

The location is also important because a 2016 report found Hall 1 responds to 52 per cent of all fires in the city.

The cost of building a new hall is estimated at $15 million.

Swimming pool doesn't meet modern standards

One of the cost cutting proposals before council is closing the Four Seasons swimming pool in Prince George until its replacement is built. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

A new downtown swimming pool will also be up for discussion.

The current Four Seasons Pool was built nearly fifty years ago, and is nearing the end of its life, according to an aquatic needs study from the city.

It was also found — through a series of public consultations — to be one of the most popular civic facilities.

City manager Kathleen Soltis said although the building itself is sound, it's just too old.

 "It's is not providing the level of services and amenities that people should be able to expect in this day and age," pointing out that it no longer meets modern accessibility standards.

The cost of maintaining the pool is estimated at nearly $1 million annually, while replacing it is estimated at $35 million.

Soltis said in the case of both the pool and the fire hall, the city would have to take on debt.

Councillor Brian Skakun said he wants the decision go before the voters.

"I prefer a referendum," he said.

Budget talks are being held over two days. 

CBC Daybreak North is providing ongoing coverage through a liveblog.

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