Our views: City should consider site options for station

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Saturday, October 19, 2013

The city of Janesville probably waited too long to decide to build a new central fire station.
Now that it has decided, though, the city shouldn’t rush into a choice on a site. A little patience could yield better possibilities.
The majority of the city council agreed Monday night that the city should move ahead with plans to build a new station at a cost of $6.2 million to $7.4 million. Councils since 1994 have discussed the need, so the endorsement was long overdue.
The new station isn’t intended to improve response times. Instead, it will address deficiencies that have increased through the years at fire station No. 1, 303 Milton Ave., which was built in 1957 and also serves as fire department headquarters. Among the issues are leaking windows, a bad roof, an old boiler, asbestos, inadequate quarters for employees and not enough space for equipment.
“We’re at a point where, unfortunately, action is needed,” Fire Chief Jim Jensen said. “We need to do something. Doing nothing is not an option.”
Jensen said he couldn’t recommend spending several million dollars on “an expensive Band-Aid on a building that doesn’t meet the city’s needs.”
That’s good advice, and the council was wise to follow it. The decision to move ahead, however, was only one of many that must be made before the new station is ready for operation.
Perhaps the biggest consideration is where to locate the new building. A new station needs about two acres. The existing site is about 0.69 acres. Acting City Manager Jay Winzenz said he would come back to the council in closed session with possible locations. The building should remain in a corridor extending from the current station to an area around Craig High School, Winzenz said.
Besides being too small, the current site has had access problems because the only exit has been onto busy Milton Avenue where it’s only two lanes wide. That is being addressed with a land acquisition and modifications that will allow rear access, as well.
As for the current site’s size, it could be increased if the city bought more property and cleared out buildings. Beyond that, the city could look at going higher with the new building to make the most of available space. Administrative offices, for example, could go on a third floor. An elevator already is required.
While that’s a viable option, another intriguing prospect is the Rock County 4-H Fairgrounds. Fair officials and others have discussed moving the squeezed and landlocked fairgrounds to another location. At best, that will take a few years, though, and that timeframe would require patience on the city’s part.
The current fairgrounds, though, would be a perfect location for the new fire station, and it would a shame if the city missed that possibility by a year or two for a facility that will serve residents for decades.
Regardless of location, the city should follow council member Doug Marklein’s advice. He encouraged the city to assess the other stations and ensure maximum use and efficiency, and he said he didn’t want the new station to be anything more than a basic building that will meet the needs.
After all of these years, it’s good the city has finally committed to moving ahead with a new central fire station. The council should remain studious and deliberate, however, to ensure that the decisions still to be made are the best for now and the future.

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