Park Place Lodge
new firehall

During the sixteen years I served as councillor and mayor for the City of Fernie, I was involved in decision-making processes concerning land and buildings. This included the purchase of the historic Courthouse, the BC Hydro office building (which became the Fernie Museum), and the 901 land (formerly the Fernie Central School shop building0, for the new firehall.

The school, once a beautiful red brick structure, was transformed into an eyesore of white stucco with mustard yellow trim and remained empty for decades. The late Heiko Socher became the owner of the school properties and sold a portion, including the school and a parcel of land on First Avenue, to Parastone Developments.

At that time, council and staff were seeking a location for a new firehall due to safety concerns with the existing one on 3rd Avenue. After extensive study and discussion, Council decided that 902 would be a suitable option. Heiko Socher agreed and sold the property for a bargain price of $700,000 specifically for that purpose. Although subsequent councils were aware of this decision, when 901 became populated, there was opposition to the location. Concerns included potential decreases in property values and disturbances from noise and sirens. However, the fire department assured that they could delay sounding the sirens until they reached the highway. Some residents supported the location, feeling safer with the firehall nearby and noting that the Third Avenue firehall had not disturbed residents.

New Firehall

During my tenure as mayor, I highlighted examples of firehalls built in large centers where new constructions housed the firehall on the ground floor, with upper floors reserved for retail, office, and residential spaces. However, the current council has determined that the land at Prentice Park is more suitable. While I agree with its proximity to essential services like the hospital, ambulance, police station, and the highway, I disagree with the expropriation of park and sports field land.

Prentice Park has historically hosted numerous events, including Labor Day festivities, the Circus, the Carnival, ball and soccer tournaments, and July 1 celebrations. It’s a communal space accessible to everyone, and once it’s gone, it cannot be reclaimed.

New Fire Hall Site

As a long-standing supporter of the fire department, my concern is that a new location for the park and sports field should have been defined before repurposing the land. It’s not in the community’s best interest to prioritize one sector over another.

At a public meeting a fire department member raised concerns about potential hazards at 902, such as a train derailment. However, discussions with CP’s area manager and a local locomotive engineer alleviated these concerns.

Opponents of the park site believe that the present staff and council prioritize biking over other forms of recreation, citing previous attempts to eliminate soccer fields with the sale of the Max Turyk Community Centre.

The expropriation of the park and subsequent public backlash could have been avoided had a new location been defined earlier. The Coal Creek reclaimed dump site was previously identified as a potential sports field or park location.

While change is inevitable, I believe the proposed alterations to Prentice Park will negatively impact the community. I hope the council reconsiders and selects the 902 site, which, in my opinion, is the best choice for the new firehall.

By Mary Giuliano

Mary arrived in Fernie in May of 1953 and has lived here ever since, by choice, because she loves the Elk Valley and everything it stands for. Read more from Mary here.

Images: COF

Leave a comment

Related Stories

#FernieReport on Instagram