Nova Scotia

CBRM calls for bids on a project to save a sinking fire station

Port Morien firefighters have avoided parking their trucks in one part of their fire station’s garage for about five years because they're afraid the floor might collapse due to the unexplained erosion under the building.

The municipality is looking for a contractor to mitigate erosion under the Port Morien station

The Port Morien fire station was built in 1959, from parts of an old highway garage. (George Mortimer/CBC)

Port Morien firefighters have avoided parking their trucks in one part of their fire station's garage for about five years because they're afraid the floor might collapse due to the unexplained erosion under the building.

"It's gotten to the point where we needed to get some repairs done fairly quickly because of the subsidence," said Port Morien Fire Chief James Bates on Wednesday. "It doesn't seem to be ending."

Firefighters and residents have advocated for a new station — with a cost estimated in 2019 to be about $700,000 — but that idea has been placed on the back burner.

Fire Chief James Bates said the Port Morien department can't allow trucks to park in part of the garage, for fear the floor will give way. (George Mortimer/CBC)

The Cape Breton Regional Municipality recently issued a request for tender, asking contractors to submit bids on work that would include drilling holes through the building's slab and pumping "cement grout" through the holes in the floor until the "voids" under the slab are filled.

The deadline to submit bids is March 31 and CBRM is footing the bill for the work.

"I think we're looking at about $20,000 to get it fixed," said Michael Seth, the CBRM's fire and emergency services director. "And there's money that's available in our annual budgeting to cover that off."

He said the approach the municipality is taking was one option outlined in an engineer's report on the fire station, adding that suggestions that the building is beyond being salvaged are unfounded.

"The best-case scenario is the building becomes functional for the fire department and that they continue to operate out of it until such time as CBRM council makes a decision on what they want to do and how they want to do it," said Seth.

Michael Seth is the CBRM's director of fire and emergency services. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

There were also concerns expressed in recent years about other issues caused by the subsidence such as cracks in the fire station's walls.

"That's more on the cosmetic side of things," said Bates. "There's no doubt that there may need to be some other levelling up and stuff like that in other sections of the hall area itself. The big thing for us is to get our garage secured so that we can support our vehicles."

The fire chief said the soil subsidence has never been adequately explained. It's not believed there are any abandoned mine workings under the building.

"We don't seem to be able to see where the material's going," said Bates. "We just know it's going."

In the meantime, he's cautiously optimistic that the CBRM's proposed fix will work.

"If this secures everything the way we need it, then we should be good to go," said Bates.

He said that if it doesn't work, a new fire station will likely have to be built, which would require government money.

"The feasibility of a volunteer fire department building a new facility — that's not in the books," he said. "It would have to be a concerted effort between not just the CBRM but probably provincial and federal assets also in order to be able to construct a new facility."

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