Thursday July 31, 2014


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Fire hall future

The old fire hall is prime real estate for local groups looking to expand
Derek Bedry Photo

Many community groups are jockeying for a place in the soon to be decommissioned fire hall, but City representatives are examining the needs of Fort St. John.

The decision about what to do with the old fire hall is heating up as two local groups could see it as an ideal location to set up shop.

Stage North received a 30-day notice to leave its current space in the basement of the Co-Op Mall last week, while Search and Rescue needs a place to store its life-saving equipment.

The Fort St. John Community Arts Council has expressed interest in taking over the space to provide a workspace for various artist groups in town. While this has been a goal of the organization for a while, it is suddenly pressing with news that Stage North must vacate its present rehearsal space by March 30.

"There's a lot more to the arts than performance in the Cultural Centre," said Sue Popesku, Stage North executive director and an Arts Council member. "They want the artists to come in and sell there, they want local performers to come in there and perform and pay for the rates ... but you cannot come in there to do that if you're not making it somewhere."

However, the Search and Rescue service believes that the building would be ideal for their purposes because the space is already optimized for vehicles. It currently houses its equipment at the City's Public Works building, but the team has to keep its vehicle outside as it runs on diesel, meaning it is unavailable in very cold weather – the times when the work of the Search and Rescue team is most essential.

"We don't have enough equipment of space to accommodate the whole facility, but because it is set up for truck bays and warm storage, it would be perfect for us to get out truck and trailer inside," said Brian Lamond, the Search and Rescue spokesperson.

"We're trying to acquire a permanent base and looking at a number of different options," he said.

"We were looking at the fire hall and we've done a few presentations for Mayor and Council and gave an overview of what we do and what our needs are – and no big bite on it."

Based on his conversations with councillors outside the chamber, it did not seem like the City considered giving the fire hall to Search and Rescue an option, he said, adding that Search and Rescue will take the next step to officially put forward their desire to use the space.

"It's their building and they can make a business case for utilization based on what their needs are," he said.

"They own the land, the building, based on what their business needs are they should be deciding to use City space to the best advantage of the City. I would think that would be the prudent thing to do with taxpayers money before they look outside of that influence, whether it be a nonprofit or a service type group."

The Arts Council would like to see that space used for artistic pursuits, including providing a rehearsal space for Stage North. It is currently housed at 10320 94th Avenue, in the basement of the Co-Op but they must vacate by March 30. Popesku said the group had moved into the space knowing they could be given a 30-day notice at any time and she does not begrudge the owners the decision.

"We always knew if they sold it or had plans for it we'd have to be out in 30 days, this is no surprise to us." She added she supports improvements in the area and said renovations are generally a good thing for commerce, but worries about where else the Stage North can go if it cannot afford rent.

"Every time we talk to people in authority, they say 'you have the Cultural Centre.' But that's not an answer for Stage North – the Cultural Centre has no more room," Popesku said.

While that space has been designed to display the art or host the performances, Popesku said that it is not appropriate for the creation of the art, which often requires a large space. Many of the Arts Council affiliates use ad hoc locations for their workshops and she believed that the old fire hall would provide the 3,000 square feet that she calculates is required for their pursuits.

"The fire hall would be an ideal location," Popesku said. "Right on 100th, very exposed. The arts would make it look active and attractive. It's close to other amenities that are compatible. It would be an enhancement for 100th Ave which is what we need coming in from the airport – believe me."

Popesku said Stage North will have to come up with a solution fairly quickly because the arts are important to the community.

"We have no idea what's going to happen," she said. "The board is having an emergency meeting before next Wednesday, we have four-and-a-half weeks left and the move week, we realized, is Easter. All our volunteers are going to be on break. So we're struck between a rock and a hard place.

"I'm sure we'll find something, but it may not be a workable space. How often do we have to move to still keep going and providing a valuable service to the community? Arts and drama and teaching young kids confidence and being on stage and how to present themselves is a tremendous asset to the community."

At one time, City Councillor Larry Evans has proposed the Arts Council be moved into the old fire hall, but he said since then priorities have changed.

"Other things have come to light now, our parks department is getting too small for where they are so we may be looking at that for the fire hall," he said.

Mayor Lori Ackerman said City staff will present a report in the coming weeks on possible uses for the fire hall, but she thought there would be a good use for the City's own purposes.

"There are a couple different options," she said, but she would not know more until seeing the staff report.

"We know there's a lot of groups that would be interested in it, but if they're a membership-driven group they usually find their own space. There's quite a few membership-driven groups in the community that don't rely on the community to find them space. We're just unable to assist everybody."



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