Vernon Search and Rescue is looking for a new facility.
The volunteer organization has approached the Regional District of North Okanagan with a request for $3.5 million, which will cover a new building and property, and to use the alternate approval process for this funding.
“We have reviewed multiple properties, but with the lengthy funding process it is likely that these open market properties will sell before a deal can be completed,” said Mark Forsyth, a VSAR director, who presented to RDNO along with group president Daniel Hoekstra and member Rob Cross.
“We need a purpose-built facility for training and operations.”
It has been housed at various locations since its inception in 1960, but VSAR moved to its current location on Aberdeen Road – adjacent to the RDNO office – after scraping together enough cash to build in 1994. The building was expanded in 2004, adding an additional vehicle bay and a larger training area.
Forsyth said the group has explored all options, including expanding the current building onto the RDNO grounds but that was scuttled when an endangered species of toad was found.
The organization looked at continuing to operate out of the current location but store some of VSAR’s equipment at alternate locations around the region. This has the benefit of sometimes having the right gear in a closer location to an emergency, but could work against the group as well.
“It also has the drawback that volunteers must now travel to different locations to make sure the gear is always in a ready state, which adds cost and potential confusion,” said Forsyth. “This is not an ideal model, so we have focused our efforts on moving to a location that can house all of our equipment with adequate training space for our team members.”
The ideal search and rescue building would be approximately 9,200 square feet; have a lobby, planning office, meeting and training area, office, communication centre, kitchen, vehicle storage, bunk room, wash bay, equipment and electronics storage, washrooms and other amenities.
Ideally, it would have close access to a highway with no school zones between the property and nearest highway, would be a minimum of two acres and on flat or mostly flat property, and must have 24-hour access in all weather conditions.
“We’re looking for a purpose-built facility,” said Hoekstra, whose organization has set call-out records for three years in a row, and are pace already in 2018 to break last year’s record of 87. “This building is to help save lives, which is why we are here today.”
VSAR, which has raised about $200,000 on its own toward the project, has looked at three exisiting RDNO properties as a potential new home – Pottery Road Fire Training Centre; McLeish Road works yard in the BX and Department of National Defence leased land near Okanagan College – but none meet the group’s preferred criteria.
To proceed with the group’s request, the regional district would have to set up loan authorization and service establishment bylaws, both of which require the consent of the electorate. The predominant means of achieving consent would be going through referendum or, as VSAR asked, the alternate approval process, where 10 per cent of the voters would have to be against the borrowing of $3.5 million to have it turned down.
“The referendum process would be an area-wide vote,” said RDNO administrator David Sewell. “We would set up voting opportunities and an advertising program, and it’s a significant administrative and cost expense to go through that process.
“The alternate approval process is somewhat abbreviated.”
If the process goes through and is successful, the RDNO would own the new building and land and enter into a long-term lease agreement with VSAR.
Directors will discuss the request at a future meeting, though support was shown by Vernon director Brian Quiring.
“This is something that is really needed,” said Quiring. “They have put in an awful lot of time through this process. They’ve exhausted all the options, tried everything. What they do for the community and how much, there is certainly lots to be proud of. They need this facility.”