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PAB social hall may prove unsuitable for repairs

The Ralph Bennett Memorial Fire Hall serves as the headquarters for the Channel-Port aux Basques Volunteer Fire Department. — File photo

By Jaymie White Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

PORT AUX BASQUES — The Ralph Bennett Memorial Fire Station requires extensive renovations in order to continue to serve as the main firehouse for the Channel-Port aux Basques Volunteer Department. By the end of May 2023, renovations were well underway and had been for some time, but it was discovered that the renovations required would be even more extensive than originally thought. As a result of those ongoing renovations, the annual Fireman’s Ball had to be moved from the building. Normally it would have been held in the attached hall, which is frequently offered to the public who can rent it for private functions and events, which in turn allows the opportunity for the department to raise additional funds toward their operations. The station is an older structure, and Town Manager Leon MacIsaac did state that the extensive problems were not caused by storm damage, but were simply the result of time. “A lot of rot in a few areas like that. The building is relatively old. It’s been renovated a number of times, but it’s to be expected with an older building.” Originally the building had been slated for a retrofit similar to what is ongoing at the Bruce II Sports Complex, in an effort to make the building more energy efficient and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but when Hurricane Fiona made landfall in September, all construction plans had to be put on hold to deal with the storm’s aftermath. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the only issue to arise that would cause renovations to be put on the backburner. Everything that was ordered by the Town of Port aux Basques was subsequently delayed by at least two or three months, which could mean the difference in whether or not renovations can even be scheduled to take place during the current construction season. Now that the summer months are coming to an end, the construction season is on a tight timeline before the colder winter weather hits, and for now it seems the renovation project at the fire hall remains at a standstill. Given the significant damage that has been uncovered, there is a much higher cost to the municipality in order to be able to bring the fire hall back up to standard, but there are funding applications that Port aux Basques can apply for in order to help offset those high costs. According to Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador (MNL), there are 19 municipal infrastructure programs just through their department, and each of these programs, which include Municipal Capital Works (MCW) and Multi-Year Capital Works (MYCW), would involve cost-sharing options that would mean a lower percentage to be paid out by the municipality. For example, if the municipality were to apply for funding to improve recreation or municipal buildings, the provincial government would have a share of 60 per cent, leaving 40 per cent for the municipality to cover. Even though funding is always available through these applications, nothing is guaranteed, and sometimes difficult decisions have to be made. Meanwhile even more problems have been uncovered since May, and that meant nothing could move forward until a plan of action was put in place. Mayor Brian Button said the planned repairs had continued to run into a lot of unexpected issues and delays, but the Town is still doing what they can to move the project forward. “We’re currently talking to different levels of government right now about what we’re going to be able to do. It’s still a little bit premature for me to talk in great detail about,” said Button. “We’ve run into some bigger and bigger issues with this building.” It remains unknown whether it will be more economically feasible to renovate the building. Otherwise the decision may have to be made to proceed in a different direction. “Right now, currently, we are in those discussions and looking for ways forward, to decide what we’re going to do, whether it’s repairing the building or if the solution is building a new fire hall training centre in the future,” said Button. “So those things are things that we’re looking at because we ran into a lot more problems once we got into the depths of the fire hall, more problems than we had originally thought.” Even the energy retrofit project wasn’t able to be completed as a result of what was uncovered. “There was a project that we had on the go to do upgrades and energy efficient projects as well with the fire hall, but once we were able to get in there and start to work, we ran into a lot of major issues that warrants you having to make some big decisions on whether or not you go forward or do you make the decision to rebuild,” said Button. “So those discussions are ongoing right now and hope. Hopefully, we’ll have more answers in the future.” Town Manager Leon MacIsaac said the main reason for the delay has to do with making decisions on what to do with the structure itself. “Most delays right now is trying to decide what to do with the building with the amount of renovations that we had underway,” said MacIsaac. “We had them delayed because there was a lot of underground work that had to be investigated, which required LIDAR (light detection and ranging) scans as well to determine what issue was beneath the foundation. We had to get some costs come in, contractors figure out what it’s going to cost, then council has to approve it and once it’s approved, we’ve got to find where that funding is coming from as well.” With winter coming in a matter of months, it’s still has yet to be determined whether or not the renovations will have to wait until next spring. “At the next Council meeting, the Council will refer to public works and follow up on a review of the building,” said MacIsaac. “So that’ll go back to Council at next meeting to report on, to make a determination what to do with the building as it is right now, but we certainly do wish to have the fire hall addressed well in advance of winter season.” Whether or not even the social hall will be able to be saved also remains to be seen. “We had scans there and they can only penetrate to a certain depth,” said MacIsaac. “So the ground penetrating radar that we had, the consulting firm, they investigate the voids that are there, see whether or not they’re going to be a major issue. I would expect at this time that the social hall may not be able to be saved. We’ll try to save what we can. The social hall, underneath there is a very large void, but it’s got to be further investigated to see what we can do there. Since work began, I mean, there’s a number of other issues there with structure in that as well, which we also need to further investigate.”

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