Orangeville abandons net zero standards for new fire hall

July 13, 2023   ·   0 Comments


The longer the wait to break ground on Orangeville’s new fire hall, the higher its base price grows.

That truth hung like dread in a troubled mind as town council debated at a July 10 meeting about whether the proposed fire hall should be built with net-zero environmental specifications or non-net-zero standards.

Heather Savage, the town’s community services manager, said capital project base costs have typically been increasing by an average of one per cent to three per cent.

“We’re not sure but we know that, since the last time we’ve checked, we have significantly increased the cost of just the base (price) of the fire hall.”

Council decided to direct staff to pursue the design and construction of the new fire hall with non-net zero environmental standards. Efficiencies will be built into the construction plans, such as higher R-value insulation in the walls and at the foundation, as well as upgraded windows.

Councillor Debbie Sherwood suggested council reduce the size of the new fire station to whittle down some of the ballooning costs.

“Capital projects are coming in much larger and we need to rethink this project,” she said. “Things have changed since we were presented the project a few years ago.”

Town staff outlined the fire station construction project’s status in April, including the net-zero building standard requirements and the increasing budget to build the facility. 

The report informed council that the Federation of Canadian Municipalities’ Green Build grant was, in fact, a low-interest loan. Only 15 per cent of the overall loan would be given to the municipality without having to pay it back.

Staff sought direction from council, knowing the project would be underfunded, regardless of it being built to net-zero or non-net-zero standards.

Council requested that staff report back on the financial status of other major community service projects in hopes of making a more informed decision about the fire station.

In September 2022, under the direction of Alaimo Architects, INVIRO Engineered Systems Ltd. was tasked to provide a comprehensive net-zero feasibility study for the proposed 29,644-square-foot, 1.5-storey fire station.

This study investigated the impact of having potential energy conservation measures layered into the design of a net-zero construction standard. 

Staff submitted this study in 2022 as part of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities’ Green Build grant and was informally told that, based on the results of the feasibility study and the draft application, the town was on track to successfully secure a low-interest loan and $1.5-million in a grant to build the fire station to net-zero standards.

With multiplying monthly cost increases to construction projects, the grant application and design work was paused. The architect enlisted the help of Ingersoll & Associate Inc. to estimate market conditions and benchmark other municipalities that were in the midst of tendering, renovating or building a fire station. 

Since then, the firm conducted a more in-depth analysis to evaluate 

the cost of construction for both a non-net-zero building and a net-zero building.

To date, $2,828,160 has been spent related to the land purchase and professional fees, from a total of $16,507,966. That leaves $13,679,806 to fund the remainder of the project. 

Mike Richardson, the acting fire chief, said the proposed fire hall was designed with future use in mind.

“There’s a lot of things that are in place right now that are changing in the fire services community,” he said.

The Orangeville fire hall is also the location of its administration services and training facilities which have become more important since the closing of the Ontario Fire College.

“It is a bit of a different beast,” Richardson said.

Councillor Andy Macintosh, a former Orangeville fire chief, asked if a smaller building could be expanded in the future if required.

“That was something that really shot us in the foot with the current fire hall,” Macintosh said. “We can’t expand.”

Coun. Tess Prendergast spoke as a homeowner and asked that council keep ratepayers’ tax burden in mind.

“We need grants,” she said. “We don’t need more loans which will increase our debt ratio.”

Deputy Mayor Todd Taylor said it looks to him that the new fire hall isn’t going to be a net zero facility, which maybe isn’t the most brilliant environmental decision in the long term.

“But we don’t have the resources to go forward,” Taylor said. “And we need to go forward.”

Mayor Lisa Post said she’d love to be able to have a net zero fire hall. But, given the town’s financial resources, they’re left with a non-net zero project with the caveat to work in as many green efficiencies as they can.

She said she isn’t in favour of redesigning the facility to make it smaller and cheaper.

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