GF city councillors discuss the future after city hall fire
Local city councillors held their meeting at the Grand Forks Senior Centre, Sept. 23 after a fire damaged city hall last week.
All the councillors were in attendance, along with RCMP Staff Sgt. Jim Harrison and two members of the Grand Forks Fire Rescue – Fire Chief Dale Heriot and Deputy Fire Chief Kevin McKinnon.
Mayor Brian Taylor opened the meeting by praising city staff and Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Doug Allin for all the work they have done since the fire.
Allin then gave a presentation that recapped the events since the fire. He also stressed that it is “business as usual” with city staff and that they are attending to their regular responsibilities in addition to the work caused by the fire.
City operations have been relocated to the public works office at 130 Industrial Drive. The office number has been redirected so the public can still use it.
He also noted that city staff members are coping well but some have been employed in that building for over 20 years and that has impacted them “from a personal perspective.”
Allin talked about the city’s insurance plan and said that most of the upcoming costs were covered including $100,000 relocation insurance and insurance for extra advertising in the media to keep the public up-to-date.
“We will be doing a massive communications plan on this,” said Allin, adding that they want to limit misinformation in the community.
Restoration of the building is expected to start this week with demolition to the damaged areas scheduled to start Tuesday, Sept. 24.
An audience member asked what the expected time frame was for the reconstruction, to which Allin replied it was optimistically three to four months but could realistically take at least six months.
He added that it also depends on what is found during demolition and that the time frame might change when the drywall is peeled off or the carpet is lifted.
Taylor said he felt there was a positive momentum gathering as they moved forward with the clean-up.
Another audience member asked what would happen to his electrical bill that he had just paid.
“Is that like ‘my dog ate my electrical bill?” joked Taylor, adding levity to the meeting.
Allin said that surprisingly the basket of papers on the desk was undamaged despite being centrally located in the fire and that there shouldn’t be a problem with paperwork. He did, however, encourage anyone to call city staff if they had concerns about their papers.
An audience member asked if, in retrospect, something could have been done to prevent the fire, possibly by putting bars on the windows.
Harrison said that from his experience, the more a building looked like a “fortress” the more it looked like there was something worth getting at inside. He also said that alleged arsonist, Andre Conn, was determined.
“I really don’t think, unless all the doors and windows were cemented in, you would have stopped him,” he said of the arson suspect. “He was very motivated to do what he did and he accomplished what he set out to do.”
McKinnon took time to explain the fire from his perspective, saying when he saw the flames coming from the heritage building “it got my heart going a little bit.” He couldn’t praise the firefighters enough for the work they did to quickly put out the fire while using as little water as possible.
Using a minimal amount of water is something the local fire department is trained to do. It helps preserve evidence when there is an investigation, and in this case it saved the city’s archives in the basement.
Their actions are something Harrison also wanted to acknowledge, noting that the fire investigator was quick to praise the local fire department.
“Basically in his capacity as a fire investigator, he said in his experience he sees more water damage than fire damage in a lot of the cases he goes to investigate,” Harrison told the room. “In this case he said the water damage was so minimal and the lack of disturbance to the evidence in this scene was just phenomenal. He said it was definitely indicative of a very professional fire service.”
Videographer and president of the Boundary Historical Society Les Johnson, also thanked the firefighters.
“You were there really quick – we still have a building,” he said.
After that the room gave a round of applause for the firefighters.
The meeting concluded with Coun. Cher Wyers talking about how supportive people were at the UBCM conference, adding that word spread quickly and people were readily offering their support and assistance.
For anyone that wants to see the damage up close, the city hall will be open for a public viewing from 1 to 3 p.m. on Friday.