Quest for Birdseye fire station draws crowd

Photo by Bill Powell/The Herald
More than 100 people attending a meeting Wednesday in support of relocating the Birdseye fire station. 

By BILL POWELL
bpowell@dcherald.com

BIRDSEYE — More than 100 people came out Wednesday to support the Birdseye Volunteer Fire Department’s quest to relocate into a modern fire station.

Universal Design Associates’ Gerald Schaeffer and Drew Weyer told 108 of the 928 people from Birdseye (pop. 431) and eastern Jefferson Township protected by the department the findings of a grant-funded feasibility study. Everyone was gathered in a 9 W. First St. fire station dating to the late 1960s that is admittedly too shallow and too short for the modern trucks it houses.

Currently, the department’s four fire trucks must be pulled outside to allow for training inside the 3,459-square-foot station. Taking trucks outside blocks the street, unless it is freezing cold. Then, firefighters said, the trucks must be moved to members’ garages so water in the pumpers does not freeze.

The list of amenities the current station does not have is long: no wash area to clean firefighter gear; no area for hose drying; inadequate parking, no ADA restrooms; no private office space; and safety issues with trucks leaving the front door.

Other shortcomings loom larger: A derailment out front could have devastating consequences and it is doubtful the building could survive a major seismic event due to unreinforced masonry walls.

Last June, a freight train derailment in Princeton forced an evacuation of all businesses and residences within a 1-mile radius. In a major seismic event, Weyer said the unreinforced masonry building would be “likely to fail or at least shift to a point the doors won’t be able to open, trapping all the lifesaving equipment inside.”

A new Birdseye fire station could look something like this.

Weyer noted that, in California, fire stations have seismic sensors.

“Any time any earthquake is detected, all the doors will open up,” he said, noting that a 1-inch building shift could wedge doors closed.

The hands-down winner as the site for a new fire station (Universal Design recommends it and 95 percent of a questionnaire’s respondents favored it) is a large, town-owned open lot where an old elementary school and gymnasium once stood. That 1.8 acres is south of West Third Street, across from Jake’s Auto Parts & Service.

The site’s documented use began in 1898 with construction of the old Birdseye School. Elementary classrooms and a gym were added in 1956. The school was abandoned in 1977 and went downhill from there. Birdseye secured a grant to bring the remaining structure down in 2013. Since then, the property has been a town-owned greenspace. Universal Design said the fire station project would bring it back to a viable community use.

Universal Design found the new fire station site is expected to save two or three minutes per run. It is located closer to some firefighters’ homes and trucks and equipment would be able to pull straight out of the building with plenty of clearance onto a dedicated route to State Road 145.

The $719,000, 5,150-square-foot new building Universal Design proposes would have four large truck bays with ample space for truck servicing, 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. Weyer said it would be a pre-engineered, steel building with a stone veneer at its base.

The cost of renovating the existing station and making an addition was also studied and estimated at $733,000, or $14,000 more than building a new station.

Universal Design’s recommendation for the new station found it “to be very beneficial and feasible for the Town of Birdseye and its residents in providing a functional and accessible building for its volunteer firefighters in a central and safe location free of potential hazards.”

With the feasibility study complete, Wednesday’s meeting then focused on Birdseye’s intention to apply to the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs for a $500,000 construction grant that would leave a $219,000 local match for the fire department to cover.

It was stated the fire department could turn to funds saved and proceeds from donations and fundraisers. But the department could also seek a loan. The Indiana Bond Bank can provide a market rate loan with a 10-year payback and the USDA could provide a low-interest, 20- to 40-year loan with the potential for some grant funds.

“Whatever we can do, we’re going to do ourselves to save money,” Fire Chief David “Smitty” Smith said, noting that in-kind work could include road construction.

Indiana 15 Regional Planning Commission Senior Project Administrator Nathan Held said the grant Birdseye will seek will be highly competitive. Letters of support to be included with the grant application packet would help and those can be emailed to birdseyevfd@psci.net.

“It’s great to see everybody here tonight,” Held told the large crowd. “This is the type of turnout that OCRA likes to see in all the applications we send up.”

The fire station grant application will be submitted in June. The town will learn if it is funded in August. If it does receive a grant award on its first attempt, Held estimated the project could go to bid late this coming winter or early spring 2020.

Birdseye resident Nick Enlow indicated everyone seated in the station cares and supports the fire department or they would not have attended the hearing.

“We do appreciate your support immensely,” Smith said. “We appreciate what the public does for us and hopefully you appreciate what we do for you.”

Smith’s statement was followed by loud applause and someone in the gallery saying, “Definitely.”




More on DuboisCountyHerald.com