By Michael Boriero - Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Stanstead Township’s latest fire hall project is up in flames following a referendum vote rejecting a loan of $1,900,000 for the construction of the building.
The controversial project dates back three years and it has gone through several iterations. However, high costs and unnecessary additions continue to irk many residents. The mail-in ballot tallied a total of 536 votes, with 312 people voting against the project.
“We’re happy that that’s been put aside, but what we’re hoping is that the council will get itself together and move ahead with a fire hall that doesn’t have a meeting room attached to it,” said James McGregor.
One sticking point for fire hall opposers is the inclusion of a multifunctional room. Last week, McGregor told The Record he was voting against the construction of a new fire hall because the room jacks up the cost of the overall project.
He said it is obvious the town’s firefighters need a new building. The current location is without any indoor bathrooms and the Commission des normes, de l’équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail (CNESST) called it an outdated workplace.
But McGregor wants the municipal council to listen to its citizen-led groups to get a better understanding of what residents want in the town. He hopes that this set back will push council members to create a more collaborative effort going forward.
“We hope that they got the message and they won’t sit on their hands for a while but that they’ll move forward, so we’re going to try and encourage them to do that,” McGregor said.
David Mitchell, a Stanstead Township resident and representative of Vision Citoyenne, a local group focused on overseeing council activities, added that the result of the vote comes with mixed emotions. He, like McGregor, voted against the project.
“Well I’m happy that we won, but I’m really deeply deceived that we had to pass through all this loss of time, loss of money, and loss of energy just to finally, hopefully, do a project that corresponds to the expression of the popular will,” Mitchell said.
In a phone interview with The Record, he added that he hopes the municipal council will put the multifunctional room to rest. He urged the town’s leadership to create a better working dynamic with its citizens. It will help with future development projects, he concluded.
The result is bittersweet, though, because Mitchell acknowledged the urgency of building a new fire hall. The no voters are frustrated, too, he said, because the town’s council could have fixed the situation by removing the multifunctional room right at the outset.
“It’s been over a year that we’ve said exactly the same thing from day one and instead of going back to the drawing board, they stuck with the same exact project even after so many objections, constructive comments, passing two registers and one referendum, it’s a sad loss of energy,” said Mitchell.
He added that other towns and cities have been able to construct a firehouse for almost $1 million less than Stanstead’s project. The Record reached out to Mayor Francine Caron Markwell but did not receive a comment at the time of publication.
The Record also contacted the Régie intermunicipale de prévention et de protection incendie
Memphrémagog Est, but the organization declined to comment on the situation.