The city will seek stimulus funding to demolish an antique firehouse and replace it, even though renovations would cost two-thirds less than rebuilding.
The measure, proposed by fire Chief Robert Farstad, sparked a short debate at Monday’s City Council committees meeting. In the end it was approved by the committee on the grounds that it was better to spend “someone else’s money,” as Director of Operations Sharon Jordan put it.
“To foot the bill for the renovations, we just don’t have the money,” she said. “This is free money.”
If the grant is approved by the federal government, the city would spend roughly $3.5 million to demolish and rebuild Fire Station 3, in Mont Pleasant. Renovating it instead would cost slightly less than $1 million, but that expense is not eligible for a stimulus grant.
No one disagreed on the need for major repairs. The firehouse, which was built by a WPA crew in 1938, is in poor condition, Farstad said.
It needs a new roof, as well as remedies to a persistent pest problem and the stench of a decades-old diesel contamination. The spill was cleaned up, but the fumes can still be smelled, Farstad said.
Also, old water damage has yet to be fixed and Farstad wants to install taller doors to accommodate larger firetrucks.
He emphasized that the cost of renovations would come from taxpayers if his rebuilding grant is not approved.
“That’s close to one million, at least, of our money,” he said.
Only Councilwoman Barbara Blanchard spoke against the idea.
Upon hearing that the cost to renovate would be less than $1 million, she argued that the price was reasonable to preserve a piece of the city’s history.
“I’d prefer to renovate it,” she said. “We already lost one of our oldest stations. And I just think old fire stations are part of our history.”
Farstad said renovating would be a waste. Only one floor is needed now, leaving one and a half vacant.
Blanchard persisted, but Farstad said the station doors, at the very least, would eventually need to be changed. A 14-foot-tall ladder truck would be needed at the site if the population of Mont Pleasant and Bellevue increases, he said.
“With all due respect, firehouses were built to be operational,” he added. “The [door] height is too low.”
He also said the station is not a decent workspace for the three firefighters assigned there.
“Our people are living with varmints every day. It is not pleasurable. We’re worried about ceiling problems. We’ve had asbestos exposure. That building was contaminated with diesel fumes for many, many years. You can still smell it,” Farstad said. “We have an obligation to give our people a proper place to work.”
The council’s public safety committee agreed, approving the grant request. The full council will vote next Monday.