Voters to decide on new fire station

October 22, 2008

By Jon Savelle

CORRECTED — 3:28 p.m. Oct. 24, 2008

At Fire Station 72, on state Route 900 at 1770 Maple St., firefighters work from a building that has been considered temporary since 2000.

It was barely adequate then, and it hasn’t improved with age.

Now, a proposal to build a permanent new Eastside Fire & Rescue station goes before the voters in the Nov. 4 general election. The $8 million building would be constructed on a city-owned parcel immediately north of the new transit center.

To pay for it, Proposition 1 authorizes the city to issue $4.5 million in 20-year, general obligation bonds supported by a levy of excess property taxes. The tax rate would be 5.77 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation, which works out to $28.85 per year for a house assessed at $500,000.

The remaining monies would come from the city’s reserves ($1.5 million) and from King County Fire District 10 (another $2 million). The latter was available from the district’s $3 million reserve fund, said EFR Finance Chief Dave Gray. Fire District 10 serves parts of Cougar Mountain and south of the city limits, where firefighters from Station 72 in Issaquah provide backup for other EFR teams.

In 2006, Issaquah spent $1 million to buy the building site from Sound Transit. Another $55,000 went to schematic design and cost estimating for the project.

If it passes, final design and construction of a new station could begin in 2009. It is envisioned as having 11,257 square feet, with three equipment bays, and incorporating highly energy-efficient materials and mechanical systems.

The need for a new station is acute, said EFR Chief Lee Soptich. The temporary station is too small, having space only for an aid car and one engine.

“There is absolutely no room for growth,” Soptich said. “If that area of Issaquah continues to develop, the need will be to provide other services. Perhaps a ladder truck, or a medic unit, or another engine company.”

That equipment is not needed there at the moment. But City Councilwoman Maureen McCarry, a member of the EFR board of directors, said the temporary station does not come up to the standards of other EFR stations.

“We have to treat all firefighters with equal respect and equal facilities,” she said.

She said she did not have data regarding response times for Station 72, but she did say that in-city standards are more stringent than they are in widely dispersed rural communities.

City Councilman David Kappler, who also serves on the EFR board, said the new station could accommodate more equipment and personnel as urban growth requires. The temporary building could not, and in any case, the landowner, Rowley Properties, intends to redevelop the site.

The other fire stations in Issaquah are Station 71, at 190 E. Sunset Way (near City Hall); and Station 73, at 1289 N.E. Park Drive (in the Highlands). Eastside Fire’s Headquarters Station, at 175 Newport Way N.W., is for administration and support functions only and houses no equipment or firefighters.

Another objective for the new station is to build what city officials call an essential facility, designed to withstand a major earthquake and remain operational during the aftermath of disaster. Any undamaged stations also would remain operational, but none is designed to the same degree of earthquake resistance as an essential facility.

“As the city continues to build structures to support government, fire stations are viewed as a critical element,” Soptich said. “We don’t have an essential facility that is a fire station.”

The fire station bond measure has no real campaign behind it. Resident and former city councilman Joe Forkner said he, McCarry, City Council members Eileen Barber and Fred Butler, and various other citizens have been involved, but so far the effort has consisted of a mailer and yard signs.

There is no organized opposition. A ‘con’ statement does appear in the Voters Guide, written by Dick Buckwitz, who argues that the station should not be built next to the transit center because that facility may need to be expanded in the future.

For EFR, the proposed site is a dream come true. Deputy Chief Wes Collins, who has been trying to find a location for the better part of two decades, said efforts to acquire suitable property from private landowners just never quite worked out.

According to a city staff report, the saga began in the late 1980s, when development of the Pickering Place retail area made it apparent that better fire coverage was needed in the northwest quadrant of the city. A site was found on 12th Avenue Northwest, where a Tully’s coffee shop is now.

That site, however, was deemed too small after 12th was extended to 17th Avenue Northwest.

In the early 1990s, a deal with Rowley Properties would have established a station on Northwest Gilman Boulevard, where the Hilton Garden Inn now stands. The project was designed and sent to bid, but the city did not accept any bids and Rowley removed the property from consideration.

Several years later, another attempt was made to site a station, this time near Tibbetts Creek Manor. But wetland issues sidetracked that effort.

The present temporary station was built in 2000 on land owned by Rowley. It was designed to last five to eight years.

Finally, when Sound Transit decided to build the transit center, that agency was interested in recouping some money via the sale of one parcel for a station.

“It just worked out very good for everybody at the time,” Collins said.

From the city’s standpoint, the station is an important part of planning for the future of the commercial district.

McCarry said it figures into the Central Issaquah Plan, which is a nearly completed long-term vision for the future of that area, and it will be of crucial importance to developers who may want to build on or upgrade their properties. The station also provides fire response to the still-growing Talus neighborhood.

Should voters turn down the bond measure, there is no formal backup plan. Soptich said the stakeholders would have to meet and try to figure out why the measure failed, then decide whether to propose a different plan, or more education, or some other course of action.

“We would really need to know what nerve it struck with the voters and address that,” he said.

Reach Reporter Jon Savelle at 392-6434, ext. 234, or jsavelle@isspress.com.

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