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Work begins on financial plan for trio of MD of Bighorn capital projects

EXSHAW – A trio of projects totalling about $15 million were added to the five-year capital plan for the MD of Bighorn to begin work on a financial plan. They include a new operations shop for $6.2 million, $4.67 for the Exshaw Fire Hall and $4.5 million for the administration building.

EXSHAW – A trio of projects totalling about $15 million were added to the five-year capital plan for the MD of Bighorn to begin work on a financial plan.

A new operations shop for $6.2 million, $4.67 for the Exshaw Fire Hall and $4.5 million for the administration building were approved by municipal council, with the likely site being Two Feathers in Exshaw to have a campus-style infrastructure.

The previous decade has had councils discuss the potential of replacing the three municipal buildings. The municipality’s 2020-25 corporate plan had the operations shop being replaced in 2022 and the administration building in 2024.

“It’s going to be a while before we have enough money to do all three of those things, but I think for tracking purposes have it in the municipal plan, and if there are funds that become available through higher level of government grant funding we can always pull it out,” Coun. Paul Ryan said.

While Coun. Lisa Rosvold highlighted the MD does not yet own the Two Feathers land, which is provincially owned, both the province and the municipality have been in ongoing negotiations.

“You’re not starting out on a land negotiation, you’re near the end of it,” said Reeve Dene Cooper, adding the two parties have interest in completing the deal.

Robert Ellis, the MD of Bighorn’s CAO, added: “I think it’s worth our while to have it investigated for the financial plan to have the operations building there.”

In January, council approved the hiring of Calgary-based MTA Urban Design, Architecture, Interior Design Inc., and staff have worked with them since then.

Mike Woodland, an architect and principle with MTA, said the operations building is in “bad shape” and is the main priority, while the fire hall “doesn’t meet fire hall standards for space and utilization,” adding the administration building was also in need of work.

Woodland said they looked at current and future space and staffing needs as well as the operational needs.

He said they used the 2016 census data of about 1,300 people, considered the development and new residents since, then created a baseline existing population of about 1,550. They estimated a 0.5 per cent growth over the next 15 years, meaning the MD of Bighorn could have about 1,800 residents in five years, roughly 2,300 residents in 2031 and potentially 2,900 residents by 2036.

He noted the estimates were also for maintaining operational levels and not increasing them.

According to their work, the operations building could see four new staff positions added in the next 15 years for a total of 19 staff. He said the administration could see four to six new staff in the next 15 years to be in the 23 staff range and the fire department – with 28 staff – didn’t anticipate any new positions unless a new fire hall is required.

They analyzed nine different sites – with seven in Exshaw – with the favoured being on Two Feathers land that is owned by the province. The area could house all three of the buildings to form a “campus-style development.” 

Woodland said the majority of the municipality’s growth is likely to be in Exshaw and the majority of Exshaw Fire-Rescue’s firefighters live in Exshaw as opposed to Dead Man’s Flats.

“Having them easy access to the volunteer fire hall would make the most sense for the quickest response times," he said.

Woodland noted an advantage to building at Two Feathers is when the new buildings are constructed, the previous municipal land could be sold or used for other features.

“There’s some potential to offset the cost. Is there a cost-benefit to clumping them in one area, only in the sense you can sell the other sites. … It frees up the other sites for sale," he said.

Cooper said the municipality has been discussing the possibility of the project since at least 2004. While there is still more work to complete, having the conceptual drawings and a plan in place is a step forward.

“Drawing the pictures in the visionary stages is very critical to organizing the financial aspects, which are next,” he said. “We have to start looking at how we’re going to manage it by not only site, but by financial structure. … We’re getting very close to taking action on this.”