City delays vote on fire station to review costs

Published 9:24 pm Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Councilors hope for more info. on Newton Avenue purchases


The Albert Lea City Council decided not to select the site for the proposed new Albert Lea Fire Department station Monday.

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Councilors rejected 3rd Ward Councilor Jason Howland’s motion to approve placing the fire station at Blazing Star Landing by a 2-5 vote. First Ward Councilor Rich Murray, 2nd Ward Councilor Larry Baker, 4th Ward Councilor Reid Olson, 5th Ward Councilor Robert Rasmussen and Mayor Vern Rasmussen Jr. voted no. Howland and 6th Ward Councilor Al “Minnow” Brooks voted yes.

In voting no, councilors and Rasmussen said they needed to evaluate the purchase cost for buildings on Newton Street so the site can be developed.

The council is expected to consider approving the site for the proposed fire station during its Sept. 24 meeting.

Councilors are considering two sites for the proposed 28,000-square-foot facility — on Newton Avenue east of the Freeborn County Government Center and Blazing Star Landing.

It is expected to cost $9.32 million to develop the fire station at the Newton Avenue site, compared to $9.5 million at Blazing Star Landing. The Newton Avenue cost does not factor in prices to purchase buildings that would need to be torn down so the site can be developed.

An estimated $6.5 million of project funding could come from the city’s fire pension fund, with $1 million coming from the police pension fund for the facility’s emergency operations center and training and fitness space. There is expected to be $100,000 in funding from fire fund interest, and $150,000 of project funding is expected from building services for capital furnishings.

An estimated $200,000 of project funding could come from equipment certificates.

Additional project funding could include $100,000 from the township property sale and $100,000 from the sewer fund.

As of Monday, the city had spent $422,500 from the fire pension fund for the project.

In voting yes, Brooks and Howland said they supported placing the fire station at Blazing Star Landing.

“I felt all along that that area is the proper place for it to be,” Brooks said.

Howland said the city was interviewing architects more than one year ago, adding he believes the city needs to finish the process. He said constituents have unanimously told him they want the fire station at Blazing Star Landing.

Following the open meeting, councilors entered into closed session to discuss the Newton Avenue site.

Albert Lea City Manager Chad Adams said a worker has smelled petroleum or gas at the Blazing Star Landing, but site soils did not show contamination.

Adams said state money to fix contaminated soils would not be available for the fire station project. 

The city of Albert Lea unsuccessfully requested $20 million in state bonding during last year’s legislative session for phases one and two of the project.

Adams said a developer has informed the city it wants a community center built at the site before it develops the property. He said the developer does not want a fire station on the site, with other developers offering mixed opinions.

In a public forum during the meeting, Doug Weigel called it “common sense” to build the fire station at Blazing Star Place.

“That’s where that thing should be sitting,” he said.

Weigel predicted nearby residents in the Newton Avenue area would grow tired of listening to noise from the fire station. He said the city has training space at Blazing Star Landing, adding the city should not be “held hostage” to accommodate a developer that might not build on the site.

The city’s capital improvement plan once targeted 2016 for construction of the fire station, and in 2016, the city’s facilities master plan recommended a 32,000-square-foot station, which has since been reduced to 28,000 square feet.

The building could be occupied by late 2019.

About Sam Wilmes

Sam Wilmes covers crime, courts and government for the Albert Lea Tribune.

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