By Trevor Busch
While a new fire hall project has been effectively halted for the time being, costs involved with constructing the facility have come in more than $800,000 above the town’s most recent $2.5 million estimate.
To replace the current fire station with all the amenities of the current hall, some early estimates ran as high as $5-$6 million, but in the more recent HIRF Committee’s report, it was stated through review of information compiled by fire chief Steve Munshaw the total cost of relocating and constructing a new fire hall was now estimated to not exceed $2.5 million. This estimate was based on the construction of similar facilities at various locations in Alberta.
Administration had recommended awarding the design build of the Taber Emergency Services Building to GVN Structures Inc. (Redcliff) for $3,301,709, plus applicable taxes. The award amount would have included a $25,000 appliance allowance and a $250,000 owner-directed contingency. The funds were to be allocated from the William Ferguson Estate, offsite levy, and the Energy Conservation Capital Reserve.
The recommendation was contingent on Land Use Amendment Bylaw 21-2018 passing second and third reading, but this was defeated at the Oct. 9 regular meeting. The bylaw sought to rezone the properties on 50th Street near 52nd Avenue that town council had selected as a location for a new fire hall on Aug. 20.
The increase to the town’s most recent estimate of $2.5 million to construct the new fire hall (GVN Structures’ building figure was $2,826,709) was due to a 20 per cent increase related to U.S. steel tariffs.
“Now that we have this new U.S.-Mexico-Canada (USMCA) free trade agreement — somehow we’re in third place in that whole equation instead of NAFTA — that 20 per cent tariff could quite possible disappear, because with this new agreement there’s supposed to be no more tariffs on steel and aluminum,” said Coun. Louie Tams on Oct. 9. “So this might be a blessing in disguise.”
Administration received proposals from 10 companies on Sept. 27. The nine other bids included Eagle Builders (Blackfalds) $4,421,678.04, Westco Construction Ltd. (Lethbridge) $4,443,650, Westcor (Calgary) $5,060,000, Scott Builders Inc. (Calgary) $5,096,149, Chandos Construction (Calgary) $5,160,200, VHL Construction (Taber) $5,261,351.69, Krawford Construction Company Inc. (Edmonton) $5,788,000, Lear Construction Management Ltd. (Calgary) $5,990,000, and United Construction Company Inc. (Acheson) $6,075,864.
“As far as the totals that we’ve talked in the past here over the past year, several times the highest turn-key ready building was $2.35 million, and we’ve talked $2.5 million that we could do it for a turn-key ready to go building,” said Mayor Andrew Prokop.
“We were very certain that we could get the tender in to build the building for $2.5 million,” replied CAO Cory Armfelt. “Now as soon as you introduce a new location, there are challenges associated with every location absent from the purchase price of the property. We were very certain we could get a tender back within that $2.5 million range, but we were hit with the 20 per cent increase with the steel tariff that we were told by the contractor they could not avoid putting on the building.”
According to administration, removal of the homes at the site would have been completed by the contractor for free, or for a “minimal fee.” Town employees would perform the ground preparation and water and sewer servicing to the lot. The town has already spent $69,045 from the William Ferguson Estate allocated to the project.
“It always strikes me as odd when you have tender bids, and your low bid is $3.3 million, and your high bid is just about double at $6 million, but the next closest bid to this is $1.1 million more,” said Tams. “Every time I see it that far apart, the red flag goes off in my head — what did they miss, or what are we getting shorted?”
Following discussion, and due to the defeat of Land Use Amendment Bylaw 21-2018, council voted unanimously to reject all bids for the proposal. Later in the meeting, discussion would shift to whether town council wanted to host an open house for the public on the fire hall question at some point in the near future.
“I think we need to first have an open house with the citizens where we can present the location — and it might not happen — the cost of the fire hall, and get input from the citizens of the town of Taber as to which way we’re going,” said Tams. “I think we have some more crystal clear answers that we can share with the public.”
Coun. Garth Bekkering wasn’t so sure.
“The only question is, of course, where and how much. So having an open house at this point in time, before we know where and how much — I don’t know.”
Coun. Jack Brewin cautioned that public opposition to the proposal will be faced at all locations under contemplation.
“We’ve spent quite a bit of time on this last site that we thought was appropriate. How are we choosing an appropriate site now? No matter what somebody’s not going to like it.”
No matter what opposition is faced, Tams argued town council has an obligation to consult with the citizens of the town over the issue.
“No matter what we do, we’re going to run into those that are asking to build, those that are opposed, and those that want absolutely nothing built anywhere or do anything. That’s always going to exist with what we’re doing on council. But we must honour our commitment to go back and hold an open house.”
Coun. Joe Strojwas suggested the “silent majority” in support of the fire hall project could help turn the tables on town opposition at a future open house.
“I realize we had a delegation here that was largely against building a fire hall at that location. Something that we’ve missed here is the silent majority out there. I’ve had lots of people tell me that central location in the middle of town was the best location. So perhaps if we go back to an open house like Mr. Tams is suggesting, show them the alternatives, and show them what is the best location — that is the best location — perhaps the tables will turn.”
Coun. Mark Garner felt the town needs to move toward a spirit of true accountability and transparency in its action and decisions if the electorate’s trust is to be regained.
“I think there’s a lesson to be learned here tonight — if we’re listening — and that is up front public engagement. We need to do that, whether we want to say we messed up or not, we need to get people on board right off the start. I think it’s still doable. I’m not saying that we can’t build a fire hall, but obviously that’s maybe not the place. But I think don’t give up on it. HIRF hasn’t changed, and it won’t. But I think we need to learn the lesson tonight that we engage these people as partners. And I agree with Councillor Tams — we need to engage them. We don’t need to shy away from this, we need to get them on board. In real estate, there’s an expression — disclose, disclose, disclose. I think we would be wise to learn from that.”
Following discussion, town council would vote unanimously to host an open house with the public on the fire hall question during the third week of January 2019.