Study finds five fire stations in poor condition

An outside consulting firm has rated five of the nine Gainesville fire stations as being in poor condition and is recommending replacing them over the next nine years.

Emergency Services Consulting International (ESCI) examined all the Gainesville Fire and Rescue facilities as part of a review of the department and presented their findings at Thursday’s regular city commission meeting.

Assistant Chief Stephen Hesson said the department’s aging facilities—most of the buildings on the “poor” list are 40 to 61 years old—prompted them to seek the assessment.

“We were experiencing significant and costly maintenance issues that were coming up suddenly,” Hesson said. “The thinking was that a full assessment was in order to help provide an understanding of all of our needs in an attempt to get ahead of the trend and get ahead of the problem.”

The commission approved the $136,000 study in February, and the resulting growth and expansion master plan report is more than 250-pages long.

“This [report] is incredibly helpful, and really all we have to do now is figure out how to pay for it and develop a plan moving forward,” Mayor Lauren Poe told the ESCI representatives.

Rick Kuhl of WSKF Architects was part of the team of architects and engineers that worked at assessing the condition of the city’s fire stations, training facilities and administrative buildings— a total of 16 buildings.

Kuhl said 40 to 50 years is a common lifespan for a fire station, and that many of the city’s stations had reached that point.

“Fire stations, in and of themselves, take a great deal of a beating quite frankly,” Kuhl said. “They are occupied 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. They are occupied by folks who have tough jobs. That facility has to be responsive to that.”

ESCI identified the replacement of Station 2 (2210 SW Archer Road), Station 5 (1244 NW 30th Ave.) and Station 7 (5601 NW 43rd St.) as its recommended priority 1. The design and construction of the three stations would cost an estimated $33 million to $36 million.

The priority 2 recommendation is the replacement of Station 9, which is in a modular building at 4213 SW 30th Ave., at an estimated design and construction cost of $10 million to $11 million.

The recommended priority 3 is the replacement of Station 3 (900 NE Waldo Road). Built in 1960, it’s the oldest fire station still in operation in Gainesville.

“It’s a little younger than my parents,” Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker joked. Station 3 is located in her district and she said she remembers passing it as a child.

The replacement of the Community Resource Paramedic program facility and the development of a tactical training complex were also part of the priority 3 recommendations, which would cost an estimated $16 million to $17.6 million.

Replacing Station 4 (10 SW 36th Street), the current training facility and the administration building are recommended as priority 4 at an estimated cost of $19 million to $29.9 million. Station 4 was rated in fair condition, and is located in a former fallout shelter.

As part of its recommendations, ESCI also examined city growth patterns and identified where to move fire stations in order to place them in positions to respond within 4 minutes to 93 percent of 911 calls.

However, the city does not have money earmarked for improving or replacing fire facilities, and the city commission asked interim City Manager Cynthia Curry to draft a capital plan for paying for the improvements.

“I don’t think it is a surprise to see these numbers come back but it’s still a big hit, boom, when we put pencil to paper on this,” Commissioner Harvey Ward said. “The numbers when I add everything up is somewhere between $78 and $86 million, and if I have learned anything over the last few years is that the number we see at the beginning is rarely where we end up.”

The commission will talk with the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners about a potential infrastructure sales tax, Poe said. Other funding options include a bond referendum and money from the city’s fire assessment.

Ward also said he hoped a federal infrastructure bill that is still being debated in Congress might provide money for building fire stations, but said he thought the infrastructure sales tax might be the city’s best bet for paying for improvements.

“I think our community would be interested in how we all pitch in to pay for fire infrastructure because our community cares about fire infrastructure,” Ward said. “It’s easy for people to understand how that is a function of city government that has a direct bearing on your life because you want the fire truck to show up when you call 911. Period.”

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