Hearing advances fire station grant application

Preliminary plans for a new Birdseye fire station

By BILL POWELL
bpowell@dcherald.com

BIRDSEYE — A grant application seeking money to build a new fire station in Birdseye received what amounted to an enthusiastic send-off Monday.

Nearly 70 people attending a public hearing at the existing fire station gave several rounds of applause to the proposal on the table and the people advancing it. The application seeking a $500,000 construction grant will be submitted to the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs by next Friday, according to Indiana 15 Regional Planning Commission Senior Project Administrator Nathan Held.

What was Birdseye’s second public hearing on the fire station grant proposal was held in the existing 9 W. First St. station that dates to the late 1960s. Universal Design Associates’ Gerald Schaeffer and Drew Weyer were on hand to discuss its shortcomings and detail what firefighters can expect in the new, modern fire station being planned.

The existing station has many limitations, not the least of which it is basically too shallow and short for the modern trucks it houses.

Responding to questions, Fire Chief David “Smitty” Smith said three of the department’s four trucks have been modified to be able to get into and out of the existing building. The department began having to modify the specifications on its new trucks beginning in 1999.

Birdseye’s trucks have to be pulled outside to make room inside for training sessions. When it’s freezing cold, that means going to members’ garages so water in pumpers does not freeze.

Monday’s hearing temporarily ground to a halt at 6:22 p.m. when a westbound freight train rumbled through Birdseye.

Smith said talks to relocate away from the town’s railroad tracks began in earnest around 2010 because of inherent hazards.

Should a train ever derail in Birdseye, the $4 million in assets inside the station by the tracks could be lost.

Universal Design’s plan for a new, $719,000 station proposes a 5,150-square-foot pre-engineered, steel building — it would have a stone veneer at its base — with four large bays providing ample space for truck servicing. It would be built on a large, town-owned lot south of West Third Street, across from Jake’s Auto Parts & Service.

The new station would have two drive-through bays, a large professional kitchen with a storage pantry, a dedicated washroom for gear, a training room and ADA-accessible restrooms and showers, office and storage space, a storage/mechanical mezzanine, a locker area for firefighters and an in-floor service pit for trucks.

The cost of renovating the existing station and making an addition was also studied and estimated at $735,000, according to Schaeffer.

Birdseye will find out if its grant application is funded in August. It is a competitive grant program, Held said, and the Indianapolis scoring committee will not know anything about Birdseye or the project heading into evaluations.

Public participation is a component of the process where Birdseye should post a solid score. A total of 175 people attended a pair of public hearings this year, support letters were received and more than 100 individuals filled out an online survey on the need for the new station.

Schaeffer commended Birdseye residents for their support and participation.

“For a community your size,” Schaeffer said, “this is a tremendous turnout of people and, from what I’ve seen as far as the responses, it’s just terrific.”

If successful, construction could begin next spring.

A $500,000 grant would leave a $219,000 local match for the fire department to cover with cash on hand and a $150,000, 20-year loan through German American Bank. Smith said the fire department’s goal would be to pay that loan off in 10 years.

Firefighters like department treasurer Brett Stout talked about fundraising during the annual town picnic and at other times and the support for the department in Birdseye.

“Birdseye is a community but they are a family, too,” Stout said. “Everybody pitches in. We’ve got people who come up there who aren’t associated with the fire department who cut up chicken, help fry chicken and work in the burger stand for us.

“These guys will continue to go on fire runs and first responder runs no matter what happens. But (the new station) will allow us to be more efficient.”

Stout said the move away from the railroad tracks and into a new station is something that needs to happen for the community, not just for the fire department.

His remarks were met with a final round of applause before the hearing adjourned.




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