Politicians broke ground in Richmond’s redeveloping Alexandra neighbourhood yesterday for B.C.’s first six-storey wood frame residential building.
Premier Gordon Campbell was on hand to see the fruit of his government’s recent change to the B.C. Building Code that allows taller wood buildings.
The Remy is a 188-unit condo development, at 9388 Cambie Rd., between Garden City and No. 4 roads, that will include a wide array of affordable housing options.
The province and federal government are contributing $4.75 million to supply the community with 33 seniors rental housing units, while the City of Richmond is contributing $900,000 and the province $500,000 toward a daycare for 50 to 60 children.
Another 48 affordable apartments for low to moderate income families and singles will be owned and managed by SUCCESS, and 37 affordable homeownership units will be available for sale for qualified buyers.
Construction of the six-storey project, built by Oris Developments, is well underway and it should be completed by December of next year.
But in February 2009, Richmond Fire-Rescue warned the taller buildings could be a fire hazard.
A report from chief fire prevention officer Dave Clou suggested the local department was ill-equipped to fight fires in the taller buildings, noting the city’s ladder trucks can only reach 18 metres under ideal conditions—about 12 metres too short for a six-storey structure.
“This will significantly reduce the effective tactical advantage that the city’s existing ladder trucks provide,” he said in his report. “To fight a fire effectively in such a structure will require new firefighting tactics, which could also require additional firefighting resources, more personnel, and higher reaching ladder trucks.”
Since then, no new resources have been allocated to the department.
On Friday Richmond fire chief John McGowan deferred questions to city spokesperson Ted Townsend.
Townsend said the building code change also came with new fire safety standards, including a sprinkler requirement that extends to balconies. He added the fire department is equipped to deal with fires “of all types,” and is developing a new strategic plan, which will detail its future needs in equipment, training and staff.
“This will be one of those issues that we will be looking at as part of that strategic plan,” he said.
Premier Gordon Campbell said Friday that the addition of fire sprinklers is a significant step in fire safety.
“This is done up to the most modern standards…It’s safe and secure housing for everyone,” he said, adding that some cities without the wood resources B.C. has, build wood-frame apartments up to nine stories tall.
Townsend also said the shift toward six-storey wood buildings is sustainable and important to the B.C. economy.
Clou’s report also noted that a wood-frame building’s sprinkler systems, fire-stops and gypsum wallboard all work to prevent fires, but only if maintained.
Over time, Clou said, the fire resistance of wood-frame buildings can become compromised due to uneven settling and wood shrinkage.
Renovations can further weaken the wood structure and leave openings in the building’s drywall.
“These problems can be exacerbated by the increased weight of additional storeys, and may also affect the closing of fire-rated doors in fire separations and exits.”