Tantalus fire hall is safe but doesn’t meet highest of seismic standards: District staff

District responds to concerns about steampunk-looking building

Squamish’s Ueli Liechti says the Fire Hall #2, on Tantalus Road, should be a burning hot issue for candidates seeking seats on council.

The president of Duro Construction wrote a letter to the current council in response to comments made to The Chief by Mayor Patricia Heintzman that the rather steampunk-looking fire hall is “more stable than probably the day it was built because, according to our engineers, it could withstand an earthquake now.”

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But Liechti, whose company  did repairs over two years on the building, said the hall urgently needs further maintenance.

He points to an inspection letter dated Aug. 23, 2013 to the District from the CCI Group of Engineers, which stated the building was still at risk during an earthquake.

Those concerns are still valid, Liechti asserts.

“For the safety of all our first responders and clerical staff in the building, it must be an immediate priority for the District of Squamish to address the uncompleted temporary works at Tantalus fire hall,” he said.

District staff and council at a committee of the whole discussed the issue on Sept. 25.

For its part, the District says the Tantalus fire hall building is structurally safe for employees to work within and for the public who pass through.

“The District, like many other communities, is working to upgrade its facilities to replace aging buildings, meet growing community needs and seismic specifications in order that they meet ‘post-disaster’ standards,” said Gary Buxton, the District’s general manager of community planning and infrastructure in an email to The Chief.

Buxton acknowledges that the hall currently doesn’t meet the “highest of seismic standards.”

That optimum standard would mean the building could withstand the largest earthquake that is possible to plan for, according to Buxton.

The repairs completed on the hall thus far has improved the building “to the point where we can continue to operate the current fire hall while we plan for a new facility,” Buxton said.

“Previously, the structure likely would not have withstood even minor seismic events. Its performance during seismic events has been improved, but we recognize that it is difficult to determine how it will perform in the event of a significant quake,” added Buxton.

As The Chief previously reported, an earlier plan for a full seismic upgrade of the apparatus bay with a later phase addressing the administration wing was shelved by council, when it was realized that there was not enough room on the existing property “for a fire hall that met the current and future operational requirements of the fire department,” Buxton said.

District staff and council previously agreed that a new fire hall should be planned for within the next two years and that the approximately $2 million for further upgrades be put toward a new build. 

“The Real Estate and Facilities Strategy along with the new council will determine the precise timing, but it is one of the top priorities for the District.  Staff are currently investigating the best location for a new fire hall,” Buxton said.

During the staff update to council on Sept. 25, Heintzman said that the next council should also consider budgeting for a seismic assessment of all the first responder buildings, including the RCMP detachment, to ensure they meet the latest and most robust seismic standards.

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