The Cariboo Regional District is considering upgrading the Deka Lake Fire Hall to allow for dual use by firefighters and community members. (Monica Lamb-Yorski photo -Williams Lake Tribune)

The Cariboo Regional District is considering upgrading the Deka Lake Fire Hall to allow for dual use by firefighters and community members. (Monica Lamb-Yorski photo -Williams Lake Tribune)

CRD considers upgrading Deka Lake fire hall for dual-use

This move would allow community groups to use the fire hall

The Cariboo Regional District is exploring the logistics and costs of upgrading the Deka Lake volunteer fire hall for dual-use Building Code standards more than six months after residents were told they could no longer access the space.

In a lengthy discussion at last week’s committee of the whole meeting, CRD staff told board members that the fire hall would require “substantial construction” to bring it up to dual-use safety standards.

Required upgrades include approved fire separation in between the first and second floor, including the heating ducts, approved egress and disability access, according to a staff report. The hall, built in 1996 on a 14-acre parcel, was originally constructed as a dual-purpose facility with communal space on the second floor, but official paperwork dug up by CRD staff indicates it was permitted as a fire hall only.

The upstairs space has been used by community groups – primarily the Deka Lake Ratepayers Association – and for CRD-led public meetings for many years, according to former area director and current 100 Mile District Coun. Maureen Pinkney.

“It was a specific, intentional use of that building when it was built,” Pinkney said, noting she was surprised to hear the permits listed fire hall-use only. “There wasn’t a week that went by that there wasn’t something taking place in there.”

The issue of dual-use of the hall was initially brought to the CRD in October by Area L director Willow Macdonald, who said at the time that residents were shocked when the fire chief told them they were no longer allowed in the space.

The discussions last fall prompted a directive for staff to look at how community groups might be permitted to use the hall.

The Deka Lake Ratepayers, in the interest of regaining access to the property and building, declined to comment on the latest staff report and board discussions.

Macdonald, however, shared an impassioned plea with the board to reconsider allowing community members into the building.

“They’re being prevented, legally, from entering the property even though they’ve always been there and it’s always been OK,” Macdonald said. “We’re eroding our communities… how do we re-establish our community pride if we say ‘no, no and no?’”

Staff insisted, however, that legally there are no options available when it comes to allowing community groups to use the space in the meantime.

“Now that I know an act is occurring, I can no longer allow an act or omission to continue, otherwise I’m personally liable,” said Stuart Larson, manager of protective services.

Al Richmond, area director for 108 Mile Ranch – Lac La Hache, said there was “no debate that the CRD knew it was being used,” and that some of the more major code issues can be addressed with fire separation improvements.

“We need to work with the fire department and work with the community to find a solution,” Richmond said. “We can’t turn our backs on public assembly standards, but we can move the community forward on these things. Our job is to build communities, not destroy them.”

The board voted to direct staff to draft a report on implementing dual-use occupancy – which would include hiring an architect – for the hall. Chief Administrative Officer John MacLean said he would communicate the next steps to the ratepayers association.

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