Fire station options
The Merrill City Council, meeting as the Committee of the Whole, heard options Tuesday night for updating the city’s fire department facilities. Representatives from the engineering and architectural firm Becher Hoppe presented three options to consolidate fire services on a single site that will meet current standards for fire facilities.
All options would include closing the west side Fire Station 2, which was built in 1961.
The current Station 1 facility on East First Street is about 100 years old. A one-story addition was built to the east in 1960. The apparatus bay was added to the south in 1988.
The first option would involve completely gutting and updating the 100-year-old structure. The second option would involve tearing down the current Station 1 and building a new structure on the current site. A third option would build a whole new facility on a different, undetermined site. All options involve selling Fire Station 2.
Becher Hoppe architect Josh Johnson met with fire department personnel to get their input. He said the main concern of the firefighters was to have a design that would allow the fastest response to emergency calls.
There are several areas where Fire Station 1 does not meet National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards or OSHA regulations, Johnson said. The facility is very cramped, with various functions of the department sharing space in close quarters. Also, the building’s electrical, HVAC and plumbing systems are working at or beyond capacity.
“The old building has been made to work for many years with no major upgrades,” Johnson said. “The federal government is putting more rules and regulations on facilities. We found the facility is lacking in several of these.”
To meet current NFPA space requirements, the department would need a facility of about 22,000 square feet. The existing Stations 1 and 2 combined total just over 15,000 square feet.
Option 1 would preserve the original fire station, while building additions to the south and east to provide additional apparatus, support, administration, training and living quarters space. Apparatus and support space would also be added to the south of the 1988 apparatus area. The total size of the additions would be 7,446 square feet, to create a 16,118 square foot facility at a cost of $3.7 million.
Johnson noted that Option 1 is still limited by the current site in terms of parking and the lack of space for future expansion. Reusing the original building would also create compromises in the design of spaces inside the structure.
Option 2 involves demolition of the original fire station, providing a new administration area, living quarters and separate medic apparatus areas in a new building. The existing apparatus area would be renovated and additional apparatus space would be added to the south. The new additions would total 10,410 square feet to create a 21,300 square foot facility at a cost of $4.9 million. Option 2 would still suffer from the same site-specific limitations as Option 1, Johnson said. “You’re just landlocked,” he added. The Merrill Housing Authority, which owns the adjacent Jenny Towers facility, has offered to work with the city on allowing additional space for fire department operations.
The third option involves constructing a whole new facility on a new site. The new building would be constructed with future expansion in mind, at a total of 26,328 square feet. The cost is estimated at $7.3 million. The new facility, which would meet all anticipated needs of the department, would require at least 2 acres of land.
“This would be the ultimate design,” said Becher Hoppe architect Melody Hamlin.
Several members of the fire department attended the meeting. Fire Chief Bob Odegard said the department’s main concern is to have facilities that allow them to best serve the community.
“The biggest thing is to make sure we can serve the people safely, while keeping in mind the budget,” Odegard said. “I think they (Becher-Hoppe) did a great job coming up with options, but we need to make sure it’s what the people want.”
Odegard added that the department personnel can make due, as they have been, with the current facilities.
“We’ve got a great bunch of guys and their central interest is the welfare of our community,” Odegard said.
Mayor Bill Bialecki said the city has no intention of rushing into the project of upgrading or replacing the fire station facilities.
“This is the first step in a long process for the future of how we provide services,” he said.