EAU CLAIRE — A fire station on Eau Claire’s south side will be renovated and expanded this year, pending a vote Tuesday of the City Council.
Under a proposed $1.98 million contract, Eau Claire Fire Station No. 6, 3020 Golf Road, would get additional space for personnel and equipment.
“It’s not just adding space; we’re gutting the interior,” Fire Chief Chris Bell said Friday in a phone interview.
The contract calls for a 1,300-square-foot addition to the west side of the building for a new kitchen, dining room, living space and sleeping quarters. The north side of the building will get an additional apparatus bay. The existing building will also be completely renovated, including the creation of a new watch office, ADA-compliant shower rooms and other features found in newer fire stations. Updates to the building’s mechanical systems, plumbing, electrical and telecommunications also will be completed.
The Fire Department’s plan is to have the station’s crew continue to work there during the building project as opposed to making a temporary station elsewhere, Bell said.
The station’s expansion is being done in advance of adding extra personnel there. Currently there are three firefighters per shift, which is enough to staff an ambulance or firetruck, but not both at the same time.
With the number of emergency calls rising on the city’s growing south side, the fire department has been requesting to increase staffing at the station in recent years. The city is currently seeking a federal grant to hire more firefighters at the station, but won’t hear until late May if Eau Claire is among the communities selected to get the money.
Even if the federal grant doesn’t come through, Bell said the city needs to boost staffing at Station No. 6 in the near future and the additional building space to accommodate that.
“Either way we know we have to do this at some point,” he said of the building project.
The station was undersized compared to other fire stations, even when it was originally built in 1985, Bell said.
“They didn’t build that station very big. They didn’t think they needed it,” he said Friday in a phone interview. “It’s always been small. It’s small for three people.”
A reason for the building’s smaller size was because it was originally meant to not exclusively be for firefighting and emergency medical service.
In late 1981, the city proposed the idea of creating public safety officers — police officers cross-trained in firefighting and EMS — and the station on Golf Road was built as a base for that program.
But that staffing concept faced opposition from local police and firefighter unions, leading to a lawsuit in 1986. Judges in county court, state appellate court and then the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled against the city’s ability to establish such a program, ultimately bringing the idea to an end in January 1989, according to Leader-Telegram archives.
The City Council is scheduled to vote Tuesday on both awarding the contract for Station No. 6 work and upping the budget for it.
Rhom Construction had the low bid for the project, coming in under fellow Eau Claire company Market & Johnson’s $2.1 million bid.
At $1.98 million, the project is still $700,500 more than what the city originally had budgeted for it. At least eight of the 11 City Council members will need to approve a budget amendment to cover those added costs.
Building improvements at another Eau Claire fire station are also up for approval on Tuesday.
Located at Chippewa Valley Technical College’s West Campus, Eau Claire Fire Station No. 9, 3611 Campus Road, is slated to get $409,200 in work.
Postponed from 2021 due to building industry supply chain issues, the project includes replacing the roof membrane and insulation
The station was built in 1999 and it’s roof has had occasional leaks in the past five years that have had to be patched, Bell said.
Other parts of the Station No. 9 project include replacing metal fascia, installing new windows and doors, and replacing the rooftop air conditioning units.
For this project’s contract, Market & Johnson was the low bidder while Rhom Construction came in higher with its $422,896 bid.
While costs for the smaller Station No. 9 project came in about where Bell had hoped, he noted that inflation in the construction industry did lead to the higher price for Station No. 6’s planned overhaul.
Elevated construction costs are impacting plans to update the city’s other fire stations as well.
“The increased costs are having an effect on our station renovations,” he said.
On Tuesday he’s planning to ask the City Council to postpone other fire station projects that were planned for 2023 to help absorb the higher costs for this year’s construction.
According to the city’s Capital Improvement Plan, Station No. 8, 3510 Starr Ave., was scheduled for bathroom and living quarters updates next year, along with pavement improvements around several fire stations.
Written before construction costs reached their current level, the city’s Capital Improvement Plan anticipated spending $4.36 million on work at numerous fire stations between 2022 and 2026.
Those projects are a mix of updates to the aging buildings and making them more energy-efficient to help the city toward its goal of running entirely on sustainable energy by 2050.
About two years ago, the city was starting to talk long-term plans for replacing its oldest fire station, Fire Station No. 2, 216 S. Dewey St.
“That was a pre-COVID discussion, and things have changed since then,” Bell said.
With the higher construction costs, he’s not sure if replacing the building is feasible anymore and may steer that project toward renovations instead.
Located downtown and attached to City Hall, that station built in 1948 serves as headquarters for the Eau Claire Fire Department.
Also on this week’s City Council agendas:
• Tonight’s(Monday) meeting will include a public hearing on proposed 2022 budgets for the $534,975 the city will receive in federal Community Development Block Grant money and $314,860 from the federal HOME program. A vote on those budgets will be at the May 10 council meeting.
• A $275,000 contract with Los Angeles-based company Spohn Ranch to build a skate park in Boyd Park is up for a vote on Tuesday.
• Labor union contracts for Eau Claire police officers and bus drivers are scheduled for the council’s approval on Tuesday. The contracts increase employee pay by 1.25% in both January and July in 2022, 2023 and 2024. Both contracts also increase hourly pay by 25 cents in January 2023, and the police contract adds another 10 cents per hour in January 2024.