New district ambulance bases in the works

FORT FRANCES—The Rainy River District Social Services Administration Board is moving ahead with plans to set up new ambulance garages in Fort Frances and Emo after having assumed control of land ambulance services Jan. 1.
At its regular monthly meeting last Thursday, DSSAB awarded the tender for the renovation of the new Fort Frances ambulance garage to Terra-Deco Enterprise Ltd. of Dryden.
The board also agreed to a two-year lease-to-purchase agreement for a former maintenance garage to house its ambulance garage in Emo.
Ambulance service in Emo will continue to operate out of Riverside Health Care Facilities, Inc.’s garage until the new one can be renovated.
Last year, DSSAB purchased the former Fort Frances Bingo Hall (801 Scott St.) to convert into a new ambulance garage.
The project first was put out to tender back in November, but the board was not satisfied with what was submitted, having budgeted $350,000 for the project.
The lowest bid was $698,000—nearly double what was budgeted for.
“The tenders were quite high,” noted Morley Reeve Gary Gamsby, who chairs DSSAB’s land ambulance committee. “We’re disappointed we didn’t get something lower.”
The board then decided to re-tender the project by invitation.
“We cast our net a little further afield,” Reeve Gamsby explained. “We wanted to see if we could get a better price.”
Because the committee had to change the project from the original one, it removed all the doors from the tender.
Of the 12 packages sent out, three were returned, with the lowest bid coming from Terra-Deco at $583,000 (taxes not included).
“We asked the contractor to suggest ways to reduce costs further,” Reeve Gamsby noted.
Proposals included not installing a roof overhang (a savings of about $2,000) and not installing a ventilation system in the vehicle area that is not required (a savings of about another $35,000).
“We, as a committee, decided we would recommend to accept the Terra-Deco bid,” Reeve Gamsby said.
The board voted to accept the tender at a final cost of $546,000, plus tax.
Reeve Gamsby noted the DSSAB pays little PST, and will have to pay the GST but will get that back.
The doors and the removal of old air conditioning units will go out for a separate tender.
Much of the extra costs appears to come from the mechanical work, as well as the electrical, Reeve Gamsby noted—much like DSSAB’s project to renovate the building at 450 Scott St. to house its new office.
Fort Frances Coun. Tannis Drysdale asked how DSSAB would finance the project as it had budgeted for considerably less.
Manager of Finance Leanne Eluik explained the board would draw about $244,000 from an account set aside for cross-border billing for ambulance service.
The province is looking at eliminating cross-border billing, noted Dan McCormick, DSSAB’s manager of health services. “We don’t expect we’ll have to pay it out,” he said.
Further funds could be drawn from a severance reserve that won’t be needed, Eluik added.
Reeve Gamsby noted the original estimate was made based on the square footage of the building—7,000 square feet, including the second floor.
Meanwhile, Emo Coun. Gary Judson expressed concern the cost of the project could escalate beyond the tendered bid.
McCormick noted any demolition that was needed was done before the original tender, and that all three contractors did a site visit.
“That should help eliminate surprises,” Reeve Gamsby said.
La Vallee Reeve Emily Watson suggested the board reject all the tenders and stay at the current Fort Frances base, which DSSAB is leasing from Riverside until the new one is ready.
Last year, when DSSAB was discussing switching to a direct delivery model for land ambulance, it expected a savings of about $70,000, she noted.
“That has long since gone by the wayside,” Reeve Watson added.
Lake of the Woods Mayor Val Pizey, who also is vice-chair of DSSAB, said Riverside was not prepared to let them use the garage long-term.
“Riverside, I believe, wants that for some other purpose,” she noted.
“We own this base. We’re not paying a lease on it,” she said of the new garage.
The cost to build a base of similar size from scratch would cost $1.2-$1.5 million, Reeve Gamsby noted.
Reeve Watson and Coun. Drysdale both voted against the motion to award the tender.
< *c>Emo base
In Emo, DSSAB agreed to a two-year lease-to-purchase agreement with Dave Wilson for a former maintenance garage at 32 Florence St.
But as mentioned, the board has an agreement with Riverside to lease the existing ambulance base in Emo while waiting for the renovations to be completed.
The two have agreed to a three-month lease, with the option of extending it a further three months if necessary.
The two-bay maintenance garage will be converted to a single-bay base with room for the crew, including a new locker-room, kitchen, and shower.
“The cheapest way of doing the renovation was to take out one bay instead of putting an addition on,” McCormick noted.
“Do we have any idea what this is going to cost us?” Reeve Watson asked.
“We won’t know that until we go to tender,” Reeve Gamsby replied.
Reeve Watson suggested they were “putting the cart before the horse” by agreeing to the lease-to-purchase agreement without knowing how much the project would cost in the end.
Mayor Pizey said it was impossible to ask a contractor to give an estimate on a renovation until they had possession of the property.
Reeve Watson voted against the resolution to accept the agreement.
One of the benefits of the new location is its proximity to the highway, and the fact the ambulance will not be blocked by trains as sometimes happens at the current location next to the Emo Health Centre, McCormick said.
“The paramedics have helped in coming up with a workable design,” Reeve Gamsby said.
That project will go out to tender in the coming weeks.
Also at Thursday night’s meeting, Michael Lewis was elected DSSAB chair while Pizey (the former chair) was named vice-chair.