The Bonnyville Regional Fire Authority hopes to begin construction at the Kopala Building in the coming weeks as they seize control of the property.
Purchased originally in 2020 by the M.D. of Bonnyville for $3.2 million, the transfer of the building to the BRFA is being finalized this week by legal teams, which will allow them to move on tenders to begin construction.
The building will house Fire Station 5 Bonnyville, EMS services, 911 operations, and the administrative offices for these services.
Since the building purchase, delays with the project stemmed from the lack of formal agreement between the M.D., Town of Bonnyville, and BRFA about how to move forward under those previous councils and, at that time, how to keep the total cost of purchase plus expected renovations under $6 million.
In an interview with Lakeland Connect, Regional Fire Chief Dan Heney explained that the rough estimated cost for the total renovations of the 14-acre property, along with the house next door, is between $3.5-$4 million.
“Construction costs, despite what’s happening with the economy, they don’t seem to be going down, and they just continue to go up, and we’ve got a couple of complicated things we need to do,” said Heney.
“Keep in mind that, let’s assume the worst case scenario, let’s assume we spent $4 million in renos. That means that the purchase price of both properties of $3.24M and change, plus $4M more, means we’re at $7.24M and change. That’s still less than half of what it would cost if we were to purpose built from the ground up a brand new emergency station that held all three functions. We’d easily be, I’d say, at $14 to $20 million.”
Next Gen 9-1-1 a key factor in building re-location
In late 2019, then Fire Chief Jay Melvin presented information to local councils suggesting that infrastructure upgrades would be required to meet the demands of Next Generation 9-1-1; plus the dwindling space at the Ambulance Hall and Station 5 the municipalities should start planning now for the future.
Heney said he understands the concerns some residents have relayed to him, that the building is new and shouldn’t require so much work, but responds by saying that the office was built for an oil service company, not as an emergency response center.
“I’m happy that the board agreed that was the right building to go to because we reinvestigated other options…that location puts us pretty much in the middle of our two largest, most densely populated areas of the region: the Town of Bonnyville and Moose Lake.”
Kopala needs municipal water and sewer hookups, internet and phone lines, separating and securing the second floor 9-1-1 center, building additional washrooms, as well as gendered showers, washer, and dryers, a backup power generator, servicing the property next door so it can house out of town EMS staff, and finally, paving.
The 9-1-1 phone lines must be equipped to handle Next Gen 9-1-1, which is a federal mandate to be complete by early 2025 that requires the ability for callers to send pictures, videos, and texts to emergency services.
“Even if we didn’t move everything else, the current 9-1-1 center cannot operate NG 9-1-1. There’s not enough space in there. We can’t add another seat; it’s just way too small,” said Heney.
The move out to Kopala will be made in four phases. First, to get administration out there by this fall, then moving the ambulance crews next spring, said Heney. By summer or fall 2023, the BRFA hopes the 9-1-1 dispatch can move to Kopala to leave time to test the Next Generation system. The final move is Station 5, which Heney hopes could be all completed by summer 2024.
AHS disagrees with the ambulance hall move
However, Alberta Health Services is not on board with moving the ambulance hall out of town. In a letter sent in mid-2021, AHS said in their review that moving ambulances from their current location to Kopala would see projected response times within the town negatively impacted by up to four minutes.
With that said, Heney said he and the BRFA Board believe that opinion didn’t hold water and said if the issue of response times wants to be raised, then the whole scope of the problem should be addressed as well.
“It’s true AHS wrote us a letter saying they disapprove of us moving to that location. But push comes to shove…we contract the service, but that’s not really within their [AHS] wheelhouse to be able to comment on where we work from,” said Heney.
“I would hope that anybody, including elected officials, would have faith in the BRFA. We wouldn’t suggest moving there if we didn’t believe we could continue to offer the same level of service to the entire region. Even if that means there’s a slightly increased response time in the Town of Bonnyville. That means there’s a reciprocal reduction of response time out to Moose Lake.
“Every ambulance or ambulance service around the province goes code red on a pretty regular basis because the whole system is designed to transfer people into the major centers…So if you want to talk about response times, let’s talk about response times. Let’s not talk about cherry picked data. Let’s talk about the reality that there’s an ambulance parked in Ardmore at least three times a week because it’s servicing both communities. Don’t tell me the response time is the issue without talking about the whole issue.”
‘…it sets us up for the future.’
Moving forward, Heney said he is waiting on design concepts from Stantec and a quote and timeline from Telus on the Next Gen 9-1-1 phone lines.
Once those are done, the work will be put out for tender, and financing will be arranged.
In making the move to Kopala, the BRFA Board agreed to in a motion to pay the M.D. back for the $3.2 million property and to finance the renovations.
“It’s a good location. I think it sets us up for the future. As people come into town and see the signage that we put up on the building, I think folks will recognize that, hey, the region takes its emergency services seriously.”