Janesville plans to build new fire station at current site, meaning homes would be razed

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Marcia Nelesen
Wednesday, February 26, 2014

JANESVILLE--The city plans to build a new central fire station on or near its current site at 303 Milton Ave., meaning the demolition of seven to 12 homes—including one on the National Register of Historic Places.

The new sticker price? Between $9 million and $9.5 million.

Initial estimates for a new station had ranged from $6.2 million to $7.4 million, but that did not include about $1 million for land acquisition and building demolition. It included seven equipment bays but not the eight bays in the current plan.

Fire Chief Jim Jensen said other additional costs include equipment, such as communications equipment, an alerting system, fiber optic lines, a turnout gear washing machine and furnishings.

“We just have very rough numbers,” Jensen said. “We do know there's some significant costs that will add to the project.”

The new central station would include separate dormitory space for men and women, eight bays, room for firefighters to gather and train and administrative space.

The city has scheduled an information tonight at Fire Station No. 1.

Station No. 1 was built in 1957, and all agree it needs major renovation.

The council voted in October to build a new station and shortly after in closed session voted 6-1 in favor of the two the Milton Avenue sites, both of which would use land now occupied by the fire station. The decision was released to the media late Monday.

The city is setting a rapid pace. Manager Mark Freitag will ask the council to indicate which of the two Milton Avenue sites it prefers at its regular meeting Monday, March 10. At least one plan commission meeting will follow with a final council decision set for April 14, Freitag said.

Construction would start in spring 2015 and finish by the end of 2016.

The city as a last resort would use eminent domain to clear the property, city officials said. That has happened once, possibly twice, in the last 60 years.

Staff studied five possible sites, Jensen said in an interview Monday.

The Milton Avenue site would allow short response times and has access to major routes, such as streets through downtown and Milton Avenue, he said.

Another site of 2.6 acres in central Janesville isn't available, Jensen said.

When asked whether architects could design the building to go up and minimize its footprint, Jensen said the building must be designed to allow for best response times.

“If you put people on multiple levels, that will slow down the turnout time,” he said.

The two design options to be presented at the meeting tonight both have pros and cons, City Engineer Mike Payne said. Both plans demolish the current building and build a 37,000-square-foot replacement:

-- Option 1 would include buying and demolishing seven surrounding buildings and construction a new station on the current site. While this option saves the historic building to the north, the department would be required to relocate during construction. That could increase response times and would mean two moves, Payne said.

The option also leaves an island of residents on the north end, which might hurt the neighborhood feel, Payne said. The current site also has topography challenges. For example, the living quarters might be built downstairs, but that would mean little natural light because it would be built into a slope.

When asked whether the department could move to the bus station on Parker Drive when the transit system moves to its new station, Jensen said response times would be longer than at the Milton Avenue site. Jensen is investigating whether the fire department could move there temporarily.

-- Option 2 means building a new station further north and buying 12 properties, including one of the Conrad Cottages, a Second Empire structure painted yellow. The Conrad Cottages are on the National Register of Historic Places and are located on both sides of Milton Avenue and to the south and north of the station.

It's not clear if the cottage could be moved. Structures typically lose their historic value if they are moved, acknowledged Judy Adler. She is a retired planning department employee and has been hired part time to help coordinate relocation of people affected by the city's plans.

Adler said she isn't sure whether the cottage's historic value would be destroyed if it were moved within the same district.

The city would be required to contact the state historic preservation office and defend its decision to tear down a historic building.

Option 2 also allows firefighters to work in the current station while a new station is built. The old station would be demolished, and the site likely left in green space. This option also leaves more flexibility for parking and stormwater management, Payne said.

While buying fewer properties might initially be less expensive, the cost to move the fire department twice could negate those savings, Payne said.

Negotiations with property owners would begin with appraisals and the offer of relocation costs, Adler said. She acknowledged that “some very nice houses” would be destroyed.

The city would work with residents, including if they wanted to move their homes, Adler said. The city also would contact salvage organizations to remove anything of value.

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