Rocky View County (RVC) council has decided to not play with fire at the moment, and will defer a decision to fund a planning study for a new fire hall in Conrich until future budget deliberations.
At the March 14 meeting, RVC staff brought forth a motion to allocate $40,000 in its 2023 budget to begin research on the planning and siting of the proposed Conrich fire hall. The motion was in response to a council request during a Special Meeting about the 2023 budget on Dec. 14, 2022.
At the Special Meeting, staff were directed to potentially look at ways to advance the construction of the new fire hall earlier than it is currently scheduled, which is 2027.
Division 6 Coun. and Deputy Mayor Sunny Samra had asked for staff to look into the issue as a priority, after a report revealed the two County-run fire stations that respond to Conrich-area fires – Balzac and Langdon – both lie beyond the 10-minute response window that is considered ideal.
Conrich’s Area Structure Plan also identifies a likelihood the subdivision could eventually contain as many as 25,000 people, making it one of the fastest growing communities within Rocky View County.
With numbers like this in mind, Samra argued there’s an urgent need for a local fire hall.
Rocky View Fire Chief Ken Hubbard acknowledged Samra’s point about response times, and said it was true that Balzac and Langdon fire crews likely couldn’t respond to a fire in Conrich in under 10 minutes.
However, he explained, RVC also has mutual aid agreements with both the City of Chestermere and the City of Calgary, which both have fire stations that could arrive in Conrich sooner if requested.
In the County’s 2018 Fire Master Plan – the document of record on the subject of fire hall construction timelines in RVC – two other stations were given priority before Conrich. The replacement of the aging Madden Fire Station was scheduled for 2024, and the establishment of a new Bragg Creek Fire Station was scheduled for 2025.
According to County staff on March 14, if council went ahead and began the process of building a fire hall in Conrich, RVC would first have to acquire the land for it, which could cost anywhere between $316,000 and $1.1 million per acre. The $40,000 allocated for the Conrich fire hall study would, in part, try to determine the ideal location and the ultimate land cost involved.
Division 4 Coun. Samanntha Wright asked staff the following: if council decided to go ahead and fund the planning study in the 2023 budget, would that mean Conrich would “jump the queue” over both Madden and Bragg Creek, neither of which have comprehensive planning studies completed at this time?
RVC Director of Operations Byron Riemann responded yes, that would be the case.
“If we are going to bring Conrich up in terms of doing some preliminary assessment and continue doing the work we need to do for Madden for the 2024 budget cycle, then obviously we are going to have to pause on any sort of association of the other two that are listed (beyond 2024),” he said.
Wright asked why RVC council would consider allowing Conrich to get priority, if it was currently listed for 2027 construction. She surmised some on council were maybe trying to assert their “political will” to push it forward, contrary to the timelines set out in the Fire Master Plan.
Division 5 Coun. Greg Boehlke agreed with Wright, but also wondered why Madden and Bragg Creek had been given priority over Conrich in the first place.
Boehlke was then informed by Fire Chief Ken Hubbard that the Madden Station had reached the end of its useful life as local fire operations have outgrown the existing fire hall structure.
“Has call volumes got anything to do with where we place priorities?” Boehlke asked. “I mean ‘end of life.’ The definition of end of life is quite subjective. If the building has burned down, that’s probably the end of life. But if they can still park trucks and whatnot in there, there may be some life left in it.
“I am just wondering how one of our biggest development areas got ranked lower than, say, a Madden?”
“When I say ‘end of life,’” clarified Hubbard, “we are looking at the resources they have in that station today (in Madden), and it doesn’t meet the requirements they have. Today, they pull vehicles out of there to do vehicle checks and to do any kind of maintenance. So the actual structure is not suitable for the size and the number of units they have there.”
Division 1 Coun. Kevin Hanson additionally wondered why the County had to prioritize one station over another, and asked why staff couldn’t do the planning for all three at once instead of picking winners and losers.
Director Riemann responded staff are merely trying to align with the expectations laid out by the 2018 council in the Fire Master Plan, which specified one station would be budgeted for and built in 2024, one in 2025, and another in 2027.
“If council wanted to advance the timing of all those facilities, and bring them into a 2024 budget conversion, administration would follow that direction,” he explained.
Samra did not think it was a matter of picking winners and losers, or expressing his “political will” on council, but said he strongly felt there was an urgent need to get the work started on a Conrich station, given the growth pressures and service demands of the area.
“There is a big (response time) gap in between Balzac and Langdon,” he stated, before he brought forth the motion to allocate $40,000 for a Conrich fire hall study in the 2023 budget.
Wright acknowledged Samra was acting in the interest of his constituents, but did not feel she could say one community’s needs were greater than any others in this instance.
“I am not debating Conrich needs a fire station,” she said. “I am also not debating Madden needs an upgrade and Bragg Creek needs something … Unless this council is willing to do all three at the same time and advance the budgets for that, then that might be something I consider. But as this stands, and from what I have heard, is [if] this advances (Conrich) to the top, I will not be supporting it.”
Division 2 Coun. Don Kochan said he also did not feel now was the right time to bring forth a motion allocating dollars for a development study toward the Conrich fire hall, and felt it should be fully debated during council’s upcoming budget deliberations later this spring instead.
However, he also did not feel moving up construction on the Conrich fire hall needed to be done on an urgent basis.
“I am not convinced I understand what the need of the fire station is at this stage,” he concluded. “The need presently, I believe, is being met quite adequately through the inter-municipal agreements we’ve got with Calgary and Chestermere. So I am not sure there is a desire or urgent need as far as this fire hall to be coming forth in 2024.”
Samra’s motion was then defeated 6-1, with only the mover voting in favour.