City considers remodeling fire station or building new

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Marcia Nelesen
Friday, October 11, 2013

JANESVILLE--Janesville City Council members must decide Monday how much to spend on remodeling or replacing the city's aging fire department headquarters as street maintenance and other projects compete for limited funds.

Plans for a new fire department headquarters were first drawn up in 1996.

After 20 years and numerous delays caused by other building priorities, staff says the city shouldn't wait any longer to replace or renovate fire station No. 1, 303 Milton Ave., which also serves as the fire department headquarters.

The station built in 1957.

Acting City Manager Jay Winzenz will present three options, ranging from $1.33 million to remodel the station to $7.4 million to build a one.

No site for a new station has been chosen.

Paying off the debt to build a new fire station would cost the owner of a $120,100 home an additional $20.90 to $24.95 a year for 10 years.

The city already has borrowed some money for the project.

In 2006, the city borrowed $150,000 for design and site acquisition.

In 2007 and 2008, the city borrowed an additional $850,000.

Of the borrowed money, $50,264 has been spent on designs and $27,066 to buy property at 618 Prospect Ave., which is adjacent to fire station No. 1, leaving a balance of $924,351.

“Staff believes we are at the point where either these renovations need to be made or we need to proceed with the construction of a new station,” Winzenz said.

Winzenz did not include the cost of buying property. Even if a new station were built at the site of fire station No. 1, more land would be needed. The site is about 0.69 acres, but Winzenz said at least two acres would be needed.

Winzenz wants to separate the site discussion from the debate over renovating or building new.

“If the decision is made to remodel, there's no siting decision,” Winzenz said. “If the decision is to construct a new station, then we can have a discussion about potential location.”

A new station must be sited to minimize response times in the area the station serves.

A location with a corridor from the existing fire station to the intersection of Randall and Racine streets would make the most sense, Winzenz said.

“Obviously, the problem is, there's not a lot of acre-and-a-half to two-acre sites available within that corridor,” he said.

Some residents have suggested the Rock County 4-H Fairgrounds move to the General Motors grounds after the factory is taken off standby status. The fairgrounds would be an “excellent” site, Winzenz said.

But the factory will remain on standby until at least sometime in 2015, when the United Auto Workers contract expires.

“The problem is timing,” Winzenz said.

“We need to do something at station 1, and that's really the million dollar option—just the basic stuff we haven't done because, for 10-plus years, we've been saying, 'We're just going to build a new station.'

“Do we invest $1 to $2 million that's essentially putting a Band-Aid on the station until we can do something else, or do we just bite the bullet and do, what's in my opinion, the best in the long-term interest of the community?”

Some of the shortcomings of fire station No. 1 cited by Winzenz include:

-- Open dormitory sleeping quarters that have not met needs since women became firefighters. Separate shower facilities have been built, but there's little separation between sleeping quarters. A curtain provides privacy between a hallway and an open locker room area.

-- No space to house bigger and specialized modern equipment. “For example, in 1957 we did not have a boat and trailer for water rescues, a water tender, a brush truck, a rescue truck, command unit, reserve apparatus, hazardous materials unit, or a technical rescue trailer,” Winzenz said.

Fire station No. 1 is 13,000 square feet and has four bays. A new station would have seven bays.

-- Cramped administrative offices.

Winzenz said other options for fire station No. 1 have been discussed through the years, such as moving the administrative offices to another station or to City Hall.

A central location is more efficient because administrators visit other stations and because firefighters report to headquarters for administrative needs and training.

Reporting to a more remote site would pull firefighters farther from their response areas, Winzenz said.

That's one reason the classrooms and other facilities at the Chief Art Stearns Fire Training Center, 3000 N. County F, are not used much, Winzenz said.

“It pulls (participants) way to the west side of the city,” Winzenz said.

“I think having a central fire station that has some training facilities, has the central administrative offices, makes a certain amount of sense,” Winzenz said.

While fire department staff and Winzenz have recommended building a new fire station--the most costly option--Winzenz acknowledged: “This is only one of the many capital needs in the community.”

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