The old fire hall on 11th Avenue South in downtown Cranbrook.

The old fire hall on 11th Avenue South in downtown Cranbrook.

Fire Hall future fans flames of debate

At Monday night's city council meeting, Coun. Danielle Cardozo brought forward her concerns about the nature

As Monday night’s city council meeting was drawing to a close, Coun. Danielle Cardozo brought forward her concerns about the nature of the debate about putting Fire Hall no. 1 up for sale.

Cardozo said there is a lot of feedback coming in from the public on the issue and she would like to see more public input brought forward before council makes a decision.

“It’s been made clear that there is a lot of voice — for, against. Whether it has to do with the Arts Council or not, it’s heritage, it’s culture. Clearly residents of Cranbrook are saying they want to have a voice in this. I would like to see some sort of community consultation on this regarding the use — whether it be preservation, selling, arts council, private interests, anything.”

Cardozo asked if the communication department could look into a consultation process that would be far-reaching and cost-effective.

Mayor Lee Pratt responded with his opinion on the matter. He acknowledged that there has been a lot of discussion on the issue, but said most of it has been one-sided. He said on top of the letters to the editor in the newspaper, he’s been inundated with emails from people who don’t live in or pay taxes to Cranbrook. He said they also have a strong opinion on the matter.

“A lot of it seems to be directed to a specific group of people, namely the CDAC (Cranbrook and District Arts Council),” Pratt said.

“All credit to them — they’ve done a great job organizing that — but the truth of the matter is I don’t think the public realizes the money that the city spends on arts and culture in Cranbrook.”

Pratt said he is taking part in an exercise at the moment to find out how much the city has spent.

“I know last year one arts and culture organization got almost $146,000 from the city,” he said. “I know that this year, my rough estimate is we have already allotted $300,000 to the arts and culture. The issue that we’re hearing is that we’re not supporting it, and that’s not true.”

Pratt said his message to the public is that if you’re not in favour then get your voice heard.

“By all means, let’s be heard,” Pratt said. “It’s that silent majority that we keep thinking about.”

But Pratt also noted that the fire hall was an issue in the election as pointed out in a recent Letter to the Editor.

“I believe 100 per cent that it was, and I would also point out the fact that it seems that everybody that was in favour about it didn’t get elected or re-elected,” Pratt said. “We’ve spent thousands and thousands of dollars, of time and money of the city on this issue and going to a referendum or prolonging it further is just going to cost more money. The end result is that I think we were elected to make a decision and we should do that within the next couple of weeks and get on with it.”

Coun. Tom Shypitka agreed.

“I think the people of Cranbrook need a voice, and we’re that voice,” Shypitka said. “To ask any further is kind of anti-production on what we were elected to do. There’s a lot of hard decisions to be made. I think we’re all intelligent people up here. I think we’ll look at all the facts. I think nobody’s biased one way or another, we’re all looking out what’s best for Cranbrook.”

Coun. Norma Blissett pointed out that it is really two issues — the future of the fire hall and a location for the arts council.

“I’ve had a few people say to me, ‘Hey, you’re thinking about selling the fire hall? Where did that come from?’” Blissett said. “If we separate out those issues … Certainly having the arts council in the fire hall is one thing, selling a public building that is part of our historical heritage in Cranbrook is another issue.”

Blissett said she wanted to look at the issues separately.

“Maybe we don’t need public input on the arts council, because there has been a fair bit on that, but certainly if it comes up that we need to sell the fire hall, I think that’s another issue that we may need public input on,” she said.

Cardozo noted that one of the reasons the city has been put in this position is that the old fire hall was not managed properly.

“Do we want to set the precedent that if it is an asset that’s not managed properly we just turf it?” Cardozo asked.

Pratt disagreed on the management.

“It was a fire hall. It served it’s purpose. It came to the end of it’s life as a purpose. I think you’re treading on thin ice there, saying that it was not managed properly, because it wasn’t managed (at all),” Pratt said to Cardozo. “Right now we’re here to manage it properly.”

Pratt said they have a vacant building that will cost a lot of money to renovate up to code. He said if they sell the building that’s not the end of it.

Pratt also brought up the criticism that cities like Nelson have a vibrant heritage presence downtown.

“I keep hearing ‘what about Nelson? Look at all the lovely buildings they have downtown.’” Pratt said. “They’re great, but they’re not owned by the city. Those are commercial enterprises that own those buildings and good on them they’ve preserved them. I can tell you that Nelson taxpayers didn’t pay to preserve them. That’s the issue we’re looking at — this is a corporation, we have to make a corporate decision… a sound business decision on that building. Selling it is not necessarily a poor decision, because there are rules and regulations around it.”

Pratt said they may put it up for sale and nobody will want it.

“But if somebody does come along, we look at their proposal and it could well be a very good proposal for that downtown revitalization that we’re looking for,” Pratt said. “But I think we have to explore those opportunities.”

Shypitka noted that he would never want to see the building destroyed.

“It’s a heritage status building,” said Coun. Isaac Hockley. “You can’t”

Shypitka said selling the building doesn’t mean losing the building.

“We’re just like Mayor Pratt suggested: Doing the responsible thing for our taxpayers,” Shypitka added.

Coun. Wesly Graham was absent from the meeting.