Public weighs in on fire station

Published 10:36 pm Tuesday, September 4, 2018

City hosts forum to discuss locales


A few floors below the city council chambers, fire truck sirens went off Tuesday night while above a public forum met to discuss the department’s new home.

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The public forum attended by about 25 people continued city council conversations regarding two sites — one at Blazing Star Landing and one on Newton Avenue near the law enforcement center — in consideration for construction of a new fire station.

Council members and public attendees alike had questions about whether the buildings would sit above the floodplain. Brunton Architects President Corey Brunton, whose company has handled preparations for the new fire station, said both sites would be built above that requirement. 

According to estimates presented by Brunton, the Blazing Star site costs would be approximately $9.5 million, whereas the Newton Avenue site would reach close to $9.3 million. Albert Lea City Manager Chad Adams also pointed out that the lower number for the Newton Avenue site would not include the cost of property acquisition. He said the city would be looking to purchase eight properties owned by six different owners.

Community member Roger Swanson asked whether the county would kick in any fiscal contribution regarding the emergency operation center, a storm shelter with its own power generator for operations in emergencies. Adams said the city has been working with the county regarding emergency management operation plans, but conversations regarding funding have not happened.

“We don’t have any clarity on the dollar side either for the capital or the operations,” Adams said.

George Marin asked whether the public would know the cost of land acquisition for the Newton site before a decision would be made. Adams said the city does not make appraisals available to the public because it would hurt the city’s opportunity to negotiate prices.

Marin also asked the council to address a rumored gag order on fire department personnel regarding their preferences for a site, which Adams, Brunton and city council members Larry Baker and Rich Murray all said did not exist.

“There is no such gag order, whether it’s implied, whether it’s verbal, whether it’s written,” Adams said, noting neither he nor other city administration attended design meetings held between city firefighters and Brunton Architects. 

Murray also invited  Albert Lea Deputy Fire Chief  Jeff Laskowske to indicate whether he had been asked about which location the fire department preferred, to which Laskowske nodded.

“If there’s a clear-cut choice here that they think makes sense, I want to know that,” Murray said. “We haven’t got one.”

He noted the priority from the fire department’s perspective largely seemed to be that the facility needed to meet the department’s needs.

Ryon McCamish, who lives near the proposed Newton site, asked — should the facility be built in that area — whether the city would work with families of special needs children in the area to create a plan to prevent problems associated with lights, loud noises and the natural draw of a fire station to children.

Brunton said he didn’t see sound or light as a large concern, as the training would not need sirens and it is customary for trucks to return with their lights off. Mayor Vern Rasmussen Jr. said he is open to sitting down with McCamish and other experts to have a conversation regarding a safety plan.

Brunton gave a presentation to both city council members and members of the public regarding both sites. He said the two have the same facility design and both come with unsuitable soil to build on.

For the Newton site, Brunton recommended rigid inclusions, which are vertical rock piers inside a sleeve to keep it in place. At Blazing Star, he recommended geopiers, which create a rock pillar by vibrating and settling rock into pillars. He noted rigid inclusions are both more solid and more expensive, but both solutions would work for the sites — barring any additional complications found in the soil.

“Now we have a plan of attack,” Brunton said of completing soil borings at the Newton Avenue site.

Adams said the city will return with answers to some of Tuesday’s questions and will look to provide another opportunity for the public to speak with the city council regarding plans for the fire station. Brunton said, should things continue to move forward, he hopes to recommend project bids to the council Oct. 22. Potential move-in on the chosen site could occur in December 2019 or January 2020.

About Sarah Kocher

Sarah covers education and arts and culture for the Tribune.

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