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Igniting Investment: Springfield Fire Department plans 4 new fire stations

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Aside from the Springfield Fire Department’s standard tasks to help keep the community safe, the next several years also will be busy with  capital improvement projects currently surpassing $10 million.

Those include construction of four new fire stations – two of which are set to be operational over the next couple of years. Work on fire station Nos. 4, 7 and 13 already is budgeted at roughly $9.3 million. Design services, bidding and construction for Fire Station No. 14 will be phased in as funding becomes available, said city spokesperson Melissa Haase.

Fire Department Chief David Pennington said the projects are possible because of the city’s level property tax, which voters renewed indefinitely in 2017. The tax generated $9.5 million in fiscal 2020 for capital projects via 27 cents per $100 of assessed value on property owned in the city.

“That was supported by the community resoundingly and we’re so appreciative of that,” Pennington said. “That does a lot of stuff for us. In addition to building fire stations, it provides for lifecycle replacement of our fleet.”

Station needs
The department broke ground in April for Fire Station No. 4, 2423 N. Delaware Ave., at the boundary of the Doling and Robberson neighborhoods. The roughly $3 million project, slated for completion in May 2022, is on the site of the former 1968-built station that was demolished in March, said Jennifer Swan, city architect for the Public Works Department.

Nesbitt Construction Inc. is serving as general contractor of the 6,000-square-foot project designed by Esterly Schneider & Associates Inc. Officials say a general contractor is yet to be selected for the other fire station projects and Esterly, Schneider & Associates is architect for three of them. The fourth project has no architect at this time.

Fire Station No. 7, at 2129 E. Sunshine St., also is targeted for replacement. It was built in 1958, according to the city website. Demolition and construction work is expected to start in spring 2022 and the facility will be operational by 2023, Pennington said.

Plans call for the addition of two fire stations: No. 13, at 1900 W. College St., and No. 14, which will be built on 2.7 acres at the northeast corner of West Chestnut Expressway and North Duke Avenue. Even before the tax renewal in 2017, Pennington said his department was discussing fire coverage areas with City Council.

“We knew our stations – particularly in areas where we needed to add new stations 13 and 14 – were underserved areas,” he said. “Also, station 4 and 7 that were between 50 and 60 years old at the time were just in a state of exceeding their usable life. They were built in the 1950s and ’60s. Even getting our trucks into those stations began to be a challenge because the size and dimensions of the apparatus when they were built is different than what we have today.”

Pennington said calls for service were down year-over-year in 2020, largely due to the pandemic. However, the call total reached 18,566 in 2019, up nearly 15% from 2016.

Keeping the stations operable has become a challenge, he said, noting plumbing and structural issues. The department operates 12 fire stations.

Swan said the budget for construction of station 13 is $3.3 million, while station 7’s demolition and rebuild is estimated at $3 million.

“The design and land procurement for these stations was all pay-as-you-go,” she said, noting a series of bonds will pay for construction.

In design
Square footage for the stations will range 6,000-7,000 square feet, Swan said. They are designed with primarily brick exteriors to maintain the traditional character of the existing stations. The early two-story designs for the stations were scrapped due to cost concerns.

“They’re not modern. They’re just very traditional looking,” Swan said.

New stations aren’t the only projects in the works for the Fire Department.

“There are numerous other fire station improvements that are taking place as a part of the level property tax,” Pennington said, noting renovations such as eliminating carpet, repairing parking lots and updating emergency power generation. “The scope really widely varies based on the need of the building.”

He said large industrial washing machines for cleaning firefighters’ gear and workout facilities beyond free weights – such as treadmills and rowing machines – will be part of the new stations. Private bathrooms, lodging and lactation rooms also are in the design. The planning phase identified what a fire station of today and for the next 50 years should look like and how to address employees’ desires, he said.

“Our firefighters spend a third of their life in a fire station. They’re on for 24 hours, then off for 48,” he said. “It’s home for them and we want to make sure it’s a nice place.”

All the new stations will have annual maintenance and staff budgeted through the level property tax, Swan said.

Eye on equipment
Pennington said the 236-employee Fire Department’s annual budget is generally in the $20 million-$21 million range. However, around 94% of the funds are dedicated to personnel, leaving little for operations, he said.

All department staff are considered city employees, he said, adding it has union and non-union workers. He said the union contracts with International Association of Fire Fighters and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers are both currently in negotiations. The department has members of both IAFF and IBEW. IAFF’s contract expires at the end of this month and IBEW’s ends in June 2022, he said.

That’s what makes the level property tax vital to take on the department’s new and ongoing investments over the next five years, he said, noting most of the station renovations will start in 2023.

“Somewhere between 2023 and 2026, you’ll see a lot of those happening,” Pennington said, adding the completion of the renovation projects will vary based on availability of contractors and subcontractors.

City Council must approve all appropriations, Swan said.

“We can’t do a (request for proposal) or anything to even get design consultants on board until we have the money approved by council,” she said.

The tax funding stream also bolsters fleet and equipment needs, Pennington said. The 20-year lifespan of trucks includes 15 years of service, then another five years in reserve.

“We’re replacing trucks at a pace of usually one a year for the foreseeable future,” he said, noting fire engines are typically $650,000.

Pennington said the trucks take more than a year to receive from when the purchase order is placed. The high volume of orders combined with fewer companies building trucks contribute to the long turnaround time.

“Any fire truck we order is about 420 days from when we order until time of delivery,” he said.


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