City going ahead with construction of Williamstown firehall
By: Matt Durnan
| Posted: Thursday, Feb 06, 2014 11:24 am
The city’s northwest will see an improvement in fire and emergency response times as Airdrie City council voted unanimously in favour of directing staff to move forward with pre-design, design and construction of the Williamstown Fire Hall, Feb. 3.
The controversial decision came after council voted in three land use bylaws that will re-zone land in Williamstown, allowing for the construction of the hall, to be located adjacent to Veteran’s Boulevard. The construction of the building was approved in the City’s 2014 budget and Mayor Peter Brown is hopeful the building will be up and running before the end of the year.
Residents in attendance scoffed from the back of the room at comments made by both Mayor Brown and Airdrie Fire Department (AFD) Chief Kevin Weinberger.
Brown had to restore order more than once, urging people, “if you want to say something, please approach the presentation desk, don’t speak over other people.”
Leading the charge in opposition to the move was Kevin Hughes, who ran for alderman in last October’s municipal election. Many of his concerns stemmed from the implication the new firehall would lead to the closure of the Main Street Fire Hall.
“I’m urging you guys to not rush this thing through,” said Hughes.
“I have over 300 signatures here from people who are against closing the Main Street Fire Hall, you need to listen to your citizens because this doesn’t make sense.”
Brown explained that this was not to be viewed as the closure of a firehall, but rather a relocation and that the Main Street Fire Hall would remain open until construction of the Williamstown location had been completed, as per the City’s Fire Master Plan.
Weinberger echoed Brown’s statements re-iterating his comments from a Jan. 20 council meeting regarding the department’s response times.
“We are not meeting our response times in the northwest quadrant of the city,” said Weinberger.
“I understand people in the downtown are concerned, but even without the Main Street Fire Hall our response times into the core will still be adequate.”
Hughes brought up comments from Alderman Allan Hunter, who allegedly told a concerned citizen to, “call a Realtor” if they were concerned about being further from a firehall.
Hunter defended himself, saying he meant no disrespect and explained that firehalls were like many other city resources such as schools or shopping centres and residents were free to choose what they wanted to be close to.
Hughes didn’t accept Hunter’s answer, stating, “I moved to the downtown area 20 years ago so that I could be close to a firehall,” his comment was met with cheers from the rear of council chambers.
Options were weighed by Brown and council as to whether or not the City could keep Main Street Fire Hall open after the Williamstown Fire Hall is operational.
Mark Locking from the City’s Corporate Properties department said, “there is still an option to keep the Main Street Fire Hall open, but that would create monetary issues as we have not budgeted to operate four fire halls.”
City Manager Paul Schultz added to Locking’s comments.
“Our goal is to eventually have a firehall in all four quadrants of the city,” said Schultz.
Staff agreed to hold public consultation sessions in the coming weeks, in an effort to mitigate the concerns of the residents of Airdrie’s downtown who do not want to lose their firehall. The sessions are expected to start in a few weeks.
“I’m all for public consultation and there needs to be discussion aboutthings like this, I encourage people to come out and get all the information they can,” said Brown.
“We held a public consultation about this back during the election and there were six people who attended including members of council.”
City staff will now move forward into the design phase for the Williamstown Fire Hall, dates for public consultation will be announced later in the City Connections section of the Airdrie City View.
Brown said no decision has been made on whether or not the Main Street Fire Hall will in fact be closed once the Williamstown Fire Hall opens and that he will wait to hear the feedback from public consultations.