Saturday, June 22, 2024
June 22, 2024

New fire hall project updated

Action at the site of Salt Spring’s future fire hall has been taking place under the surface, fire district trustees heard last week — and as much might be said for the board itself. 

Salt Spring Island Fire Protection District CAO Rodney Dieleman gave a few updates at the board’s meeting Monday, May 27, including on the current state of construction for the new hall on Lower Ganges Road where excavation began in earnest last month. 

“Right now, we’re in a bit of a waiting game,” said Dieleman, noting that in addition to a pause in hope of receiving an additional bid for a mechanical contract, the district was still waiting for its building permits to be issued.  

“They told us six to eight weeks,” said Dieleman. “I think we’re getting pretty close to that. I think things move as they move on this island, and our plans don’t necessarily mean a lot when we’re not in control.” 

Trustees noted some concerns expressed on social media regarding delays, as well as what seemed to be digging of trenches just to seemingly fill them in again; Dieleman agreed it might be difficult to visualize the work progressing, particularly given how much would be going on underground.  

“There’s a lot of drainage to be constructed there, including reservoirs and swales; it’s an understandable question,” said Dieleman. “It’s difficult for anyone who’s not familiar with what we’re doing to look at that site and imagine the final product just yet.” 

Fire Chief Jamie Holmes noted how fortunate it had been to get the initial ditch at the property undertaken in December. 

“That was right before we got that atmospheric river that came in,” said Holmes. “It kept all that water to the outside of the site, versus going in. As people saw, the soil coming out of there was very black, rich, loamy soil that would’ve held all that water — and the equipment would’ve been working in soup.” 

More than 372 truckloads of that rich topsoil has been relocated from the fire hall construction site to Agricultural Land Reserve properties elsewhere on Salt Spring Island, according to a staff report on the fire hall project’s status. 

Dieleman also addressed a pending request through B.C.’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIPPA) for the release of “architectural drawings of the new fire hall, prior to and during the tendering process.” A response is being prepared, he said, although the request raised “significant” concerns surrounding intellectual property rights and not giving bidders any competitive advantages. 

“We don’t own [the drawings],” Dieleman told trustees. “They’re the intellectual property of the architect. We get to own the building, but we have no rights to distribute, sell or reproduce those drawings without the architect’s permission.” 

The architect — and the construction manager for the project — could and do distribute them, he added, but did so on what Dieleman called a “need-to-know” basis. 

“The reason is, there’s a competitive process going on,” said Dieleman. “They’re really confidential and being evaluated in confidence. Architectural drawings are integral to the tendering process; when we tender, we go to different vendors to receive competitive bids. Right now, people are competing dollar for dollar on those drawings.” 

Dieleman suggested that after the tendering process concluded, they could likely engage the architects to permit a partial release, but that would be similar to what was currently available on the district’s public website — necessarily vague, and unlikely to satisfy the requester. 

That person was not named in Dieleman’s report — “No matter who would have made this request, my response would have been the same,” he said — but trustees seemed unwilling to leave things there. 

“I’m going to be a little but more forthright,” said board chair Rollie Cook. “This request came from a trustee; this is not an information request from a member of the public, but from a trustee who is fishing.” 

“It’s not only a trustee who’s looking,” said trustee David Courtney, seemingly revealing himself as the requesting party. “It’s other people in the community. They want to know the size of the building; we have three numbers — 11,500 [square feet], 16,500, and 15,500.” 

“I think the size is advertised on the BC Bid [website],” said Dieleman. “We’ve advertised 15,500 as the size of the building drawn, 16,500 is in the Community Charter — really just the box we’re supposed to build within — and 11,500 was a number pre-design. So you’re right, [but] the building number is advertised as 15,525. Whether you have drawings or not, that number doesn’t change.” 

Trustee Robin Williams told fellow board members he took exception to Courtney’s conduct, saying he felt it was rising to the level of employee harassment. 

“Because what he’s been doing is going behind the board’s back,” said Williams, “badgering and threatening the CAO with [legal] action.” 

Courtney directly addressed Dieleman. 

“CAO Dieleman, have I harassed you?” asked Courtney. 

“I would say that if I felt you were harassing me, I’d probably say something directly to you first,” said Dieleman after a brief pause. “I welcome some questions, and it’s within your rights. It’s just a little frustrating; I communicate my position, then you go through the official act, and threaten to go to another governing body like the Ombudsperson if I don’t comply with that act, which I fully intend to. So, it’s not harassment, but it’s frustrating.” 

“A point of clarification,” said Cook. “The square footage [of the fire hall] has not changed in 15 months. The square footage is [in the drawings] on the wall, right behind Mr. Courtney. The number of bays has been the same, the square footage has been the same. Mr. Courtney has chosen not to avail himself of information that’s already been public.” 

Dieleman said his concerns on intellectual property and competitive advantage would form the basis of his official response to the request, in a written form where “anybody who wanted to challenge it” would be able to see his thinking on refusal.  

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