Council: Build a new, $7-million fire station

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Marcia Nelesen
Tuesday, October 15, 2013

JANESVILLE--Janesville City Councilman Doug Marklein said Monday that when it comes to the issue of a new central fire station, he doesn't see it as a question of whether the city can afford to build one.

Instead, he doesn't think the city can afford not to.

Five of the seven other council members agreed, meaning a new station will be built at a cost of $6.2 million to $7.4 million.

To fund the project, the owner of the average home assessed at $120,100 would pay $20.90 to $24.95 per year for 10 years.

Fire Station No. 1, located at 303 Milton Ave., was built in 1957. It houses fire department administration in addition to storing some shared specialized equipment.

A new station is not being proposed to improve response time, acting City Manager Jay Winzenz said. Rather the project is about replacing leaking windows, roof and old boiler, removing asbestos, inadequate quarters for employees and cramped conditions for equipment.

The council has been talking about building a new station since 1994, so maintenance has been delayed, Fire Chief Jim Jensen said.

For instance, the boiler was repaired for $5,000 in 1998 rather than being replaced with three smaller boilers for $18,000. The latter option was a seven-year payback, “but we were going to build a new station in five years,” Jensen recalled.

“We could have paid for those twice in energy savings,” he added.

“We're at the point where, unfortunately, action is needed.” Jensen said. “We need do something. Doing nothing is not an option.

“As fire chief and taxpayer, I have a difficult time recommending one and a half to $4 million for an expensive Band-Aid on a building that doesn't meet the city's needs.”

Marklein complimented firefighters at the meeting on the care they have given their building. He noted the cost of a new building 10 years ago was $2.2 million.

Interest rates are low now, he added.

Marklein said he hoped a new building would cost less than $7.6 million.

“When we do this, we need to look at all our stations and find out what we could do to maximum the use,” he said.

Marklein didn't want a palace, he said, just a basic building to serve the city.

Councilman Brian Fitzgerald said councils since 2008 have been challenged to spend on projects other councils have not taken care of.

“They had 15 years previous to get this done,” Fitzgerald said. “It should have been taken care of. At some point, it's beyond Band-Aids and duct tape, and I think that's where we are now.”

Councilwoman Kathy Voskuil said she is concerned with “unacceptable” living quarters for male and female firefighters.

“We've talked about this for too many years,” Councilman Jim Farrell agreed. “We need to make some decision without postponing this for future councils to grapple with.

“I think we owe it to our employees to have decent work conditions.”

Councilman Matt Kealy expressed the most reservation. He said he was leaning toward the first option to remodel the station at a cost of $1.33 million to $2.26 million, which would cost the owner of an average home about $4.48 to $7.26 annually for 10 years.

Specialized equipment could possibly be kept elsewhere, such as the Hazmat unit that serves all of Rock County and not just Janesville, he said.

“I'm struggling with the need to spend an additional $5 (million) to $6 million (in addition) to location … (and) still having the same response time to emergencies,” he said.

Councilman DuWayne Severson asked for more time to study the issue, pointing out various projects the city must borrow for in the next few years. He said other communities have had to find answers to retrofit existing stations in inner cities.

Next, Winzenz will come back to the council in closed session with possible sites for the station. The building should remain in a corridor extending from the current station to an area around Craig High School, Winzenz said.

A new station would need about 2 acres. The existing site, which could be built on, as well, is about .69 acres.

Winzenz acknowledged that that much land in the central city will not be easy find. He believes the city can buy the land it needs with $1 million it already has borrowed.

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