Repairs and upgrades planned for the Elmira fire station this year are likely the first step in making the Howard Avenue building a long-term home. That reverses course from a previous plan to move the station to a piece of land in the new residential subdivision on Church Street West.
Woolwich’s 2021 budget calls for $100,000 for new roof on the existing structure, and another $100,000 for improvements. Eventually, the goal is to build an addition, including a new truck bay, training room and washroom facilities.
That upgrade would be in line with plans for an expansion of the Maryhill fire station, originally budgeted at $700,000 but now at $850,000.
A comparable upgrade in Elmira would be less than the figures discussed in 2015 when council leaned towards a new facility at a cost of at least $1.7 million.
This year’s budget calls for the start of a “refresh” of the fire hall, which was last renovated during a 1970 addition, Thomas van der Hoff, the township’s acting facilities manager, told councillors meeting by video at a special budget session January 8.
Coun. Patrick Merlihan, who had opposed plans to move the station in a 2016 vote, asked whether the Howard Avenue hall was part of the long-range plan for township facilities.
“We foresee fire being there for the long-term, based on discussions with the fire staff. It really needs a refresh – it’s 50 years old and hasn’t been touched,” said van der Hoff.
Township fire chief Dale Martin said renovating the current building was “our best option,” noting Elmira firefighters were in no rush to leave their current home.
“They were apprehensive in moving in the first place,” he said, noting firefighters would be happy with some upgrades.
“What we’re planning to do to the old station will make it every bit as good as a brand new station.”
Overall, the department’s budget is expected to increase about 6.3 per cent in 2021, to $2,130,623 from the $2,004,843 in the 2020 budget. That includes a three per cent pay raise for firefighters.
Martin noted the township has been trying to bring pay a bit closer to that offered by neighbouring townships – this year’s raise would bring the hourly rate to $26.75 from $26 – but comparator municipalities are about $8 per hour higher.
“At three per cent … we’ll never catch up,” he said, noting there’s not really any pressure for raises from firefighters.
With the Elmira fire hall remaining on Howard Avenue, the township will explore options for the piece of land it owns adjacent to the Lunor subdivision, including partnering with a non-profit group to build affordable housing on the site.