Firefighters working out of Brome Lake could soon find a new home just down the road, as the town stated its intention to allocate an estimated $7.5 million into developing and building an updated and modern fire station in 2023.
According to Brome Lake Mayor Richard Burcombe, the current fire station is over 40 years old, and it no longer conforms to modern day standards. The idea for a new facility has been in the works for several years, he explained in a phone interview with The Record.
“We looked at it last year. We had plans drawn up. We’ve done the disciplinary things. Our site is already bought and levelled and everything is ready to go there on Victoria Street. So it’s in the plans for 2023 and the three-year plan, you know, of what we have to do,” he said.
Burcombe explained that the estimate for the new station, which will be located opposite the community centre, was calculated roughly one year ago. However, he is aware that the price for construction materials, equipment and labour has shot up during the pandemic.
“That was the estimate we had approximately a year ago. From what I gather from other towns, some have risen by 30 per cent, the cost of projects, so it’s 30 per cent on, what is it? $7.5 million? So it would go up to close to $10 million, if that’s true,” said Burcombe.
The mayor looked into possible provincial grants, however, because Brome Lake is in a solid financial position, it isn’t eligible for an infrastructure grant. Burcombe said the town is penalized for being in good financial shape, adding it is only in debt by $15 million.
With the town footing the bill for the new fire station, Brome Lake residents will see a tax increase of about two to three cents to cover the yearly debt, he told The Record. A borrowing bylaw will be used to help with construction costs, but it will also need to be approved.
When asked whether the borrowing bylaw could be pushed into a referendum by residents, Burcombe acknowledged the possibility, but he also noted that it is highly unlikely, since most people are aware of the need to upgrade the fire station, especially for safety reasons.
“Yes, it can force a referendum because we have to do a borrowing bylaw, if we do it to the maximum amount of $7.5 million and if it increases, well, yes, people can oppose it, but I mean how are you going to oppose the safety and security of the firemen,” said Burcombe.
Brome Lake Fire Chief Don Mireault told The Record that most municipalities with a major fire service in the Brome Mississquoi have renovated their fire stations, including Sutton, Waterloo, Farnham, and Cowansville. Bromont is in the process of upgrading its fire station.
“We just got an evaluation of the building that we’re in now […] so it’s not in a dangerous state and the initial costs are close to $1 million just to fix the roof and fix everything up and make some decent bathrooms,” he said, referring to the station on Mont Echo Road.
Mireault said he understands that this isn’t necessarily a great time to embark on a major infrastructure project, since materials and other costs have skyrocketed. However, he noted that the town set the wheels in motion for a new fire station several years ago.
“The municipality bought the lot about three or four years ago, so that’s paid for. The initial plans have been bought and paid for. There’s been money put aside with the surplus over the last couple of years […] certain steps have been taken over the years,” said Mireault.
He would also rather invest more in a new facility now over saving a couple of million and then going back to the drawing board when the town will inevitably need to update again in a few years. The station was built in the 1970s, he explained, firefighters deserve an upgrade.
The fire station simply has no more room, either, Mireault said, adding that it’s jammed with equipment and hazardous materials. The small garage in the back is packed with a pick up truck, off-road vehicles, and forest rescue equipment. They can’t even store their rescue boat.
“It’s the increase in equipment that we’ve had to purchase over the years to meet all the obligations that we have […] which has created a situation where the municipalities have grown up and so have our fire services. We’re in a situation where we have no more room,” he said.