Consultant says referendum for fire hall borrowing is a new opportunity

"The No vote wasn't a failure. It was a fair choice and presented the opportunity to reset, to start again."

FireWise Consulting Ltd. associate Ernie Polsom said last week that Creston voters are in a better position to understand the complexities of building a new fire hall than they were when they turned down the previous borrowing referendum.

Speaking before yet another Open House that invited the public to review the process, Polsom said he has come to love Creston and its people over the last year. The Lloydminister resident described his experience in working with the Community Fire Hall Advisory Select Committee: “It’s been a fun project with a remarkable number of people trying to do a good job for their community. This is not a repackaging—nothing from the past was used and it was a fresh start with new people,” he said.

“The No vote wasn’t a failure. It was a fair choice and presented the opportunity to reset, to start again.”

“There were and are legitimate concerns about the cost, but the message is much clearer this time around, with more focus on information than data,” he added.

The Select Committee, which included citizens, elected officials, and staff, “responded well,” Polsom said. “It was a very diverse group of opinions and the members worked well together. It was a steep learning curve, and these people committed incredible hours and effort to provide the best recommendations to Town Council.”

After spending several meetings on site selection, a motion to identify the Cook Street location as most preferable passed easily. After that, the committee assessed the needs, current, and long-term, for a post-disaster structure, and “looked at 8-10 projects across Western Canada that were comparable.”

“But BC is unique—just look at this past summer and all of the wildfires. It is obvious that construction standards for this type of emergency facility have to be high.”

Like the committee itself, Polsom said he believes the cost estimates are accurate.

“I’m comfortable hanging my hat on them,” he said.

As a career firefighter, he said it is important to make short-term fixes to the current fire hall, but “They still will not sustain in the longer term.

“This issue is having an impact of local firefighters. Not having a building that can be used for much of their training and assemblies takes away from the team-building and camaraderie that are so important. I have seen the difference lately—it is wearing on their morale.”

Polsom drew a connection between the Community Complex and a fire hall.

“The Rec Centre has become the equivalent of a European town square, where a community meets and connects.” A fire hall serves a similar vital purpose for emergency services, he said.

Describing the previous referendum debate and outcome as “a bitter issue that doesn’t serve people well,” Polsom said the process that included the Advisory Select Committee work was “a leading edge practice in community engagement.”

Much like the Official Community Plan process, he said, “Everybody who had something to say was heard. But that doesn’t mean they all get everything they want.”

Creston Valley Advance

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