Work to reopen Market Square patios continues, council hears

Saint John's infrastructure commissioner says the fire suppression system at the Market Square enclosed patios is now online and crews are working on getting permission from the fire marshal to reopen.

The patios, part of the new public space at Market Slip, reopened June 1, but last Thursday, the city announced that the provincial office of the fire marshal had ordered the patios closed. At Monday's council meeting, Ian Fogan, commissioner for utilities and infrastructure, gave an update on work to reopen the space.

Fogan told council that the city agreed to "alternative solution" conditions for the patios because the proposed design for the covered patios was not in the building code. The conditions from engineering firm RJ Bartlett included a fire alarm, sprinklers and non-combustible furniture, Fogan told council.

"We didn't meet all those conditions for final occupancy," Fogan said, saying they had a letter in hand recommending the use of "fire watch," or having a security guard on hand at all times to supervise the site, as an interim solution. He said that was approved by the city's own fire office and building inspectors.

"When the office of the fire marshal was notified, they rejected that notion and said they weren't satisfied," Fogan said, saying designers made "assumptions" about the conditions that were in place.

Fogan said the fire marshal has required them to fully install the fire alarms and sprinklers and undergo testing of all systems before they can get permission to reopen. With the systems now active as of Monday, he said the city is hoping to "re-engage" the fire marshal on bringing back the fire watch until testing can be finished.

"We don't know how they'll react to that given that they already ordered closure once," he said, saying they're still pushing to finish work in the meantime. "There's an issue with the fire shutters on the existing building, and we haven't finished the solution on that yet, so I don't know how long it will take to get that fixed."

Coun. David Hickey said it was "disappointing to have the excitement of what Market Slip is overshadowed by some difficulty," saying the businesses had been through a lot over three years. Hickey thanked Fogan for his diligence and to the city team for looking to find solutions.

Coun. Paula Radwan said she was "very disappointed to see this happen," and said she spoke to restaurateurs on Thursday. She asked if there's a chance of more issues with the fire marshal given that the patios were not in the code.

Fogan replied that "this isn't unusual" that a proposal isn't in the building code, but the usual result is putting an alternative solution with conditions in place.

"If the engineer is prepared to stamp that alternate solution, all conditions are met and everything's accepted for that, usually it's not an issue to render occupancy," Fogan said.

Coun. Gary Sullivan, serving as acting mayor with Mayor Donna Reardon and deputy mayor Coun. John MacKenzie away, told council he was given the reins the night before the patios were closed.

"It gets fixed by complying with the instructions of the fire marshal, eventually," Sullivan told reporters. "Our city staff are working as hard as humanly possible to meet their requirements to get the patios back open."

Fogan also addressed the remainder of the project, saying that the final pieces are going in on the stage, including monitors, lights and cameras. He said seating has gone in, and the tidal steps are complete. Painting is taking place on the "Cranberry trail" portion of the Harbour Passage alongside the Fundy Quay condo project, which is expected to be complete by the third week of June.

Regarding the Fundy Quay development, CAO Brent McGovern said that construction on the first building is underway, with foundation pours ongoing.

Andrew Bates, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Telegraph-Journal