A group of Platteville residents wants the city to take the first steps toward a new or expanded fire station.
The group asked the city to spend up to $75,000 to commission a professional study to determine the needs of the Fire Department, which is housed in a 55-year-old fire station.
The Platteville Common Council decided at a 2020 budget work session Sept. 17 to fund one-third of the study by including $25,000 in its capital budget to “seed” fundraising efforts to fund the rest of the study.
The fire station study was on a list of several items requested by city staff that former city manager Karen Kurt did not recommend to fund. The proposed 2020 budget included $757,944 of capital items funded by property taxes and $1.12 million in projects funded by borrowing.
The city’s long-range financial plan requires the city to not exceed the amount of long-term debt being retired in a year — in the case of the 2020 budget, $1.19 million.
The city proposes to add the $25,000 partial funding for the study and another $10,000 toward a new roof at the Mining & Rollo Jamison Museums by increasing borrowing up to the debt-retirement limit and by shifting funding new furniture for repurposed rooms in the Municipal Building renovations, part of phase two of renovations.
According to one of the people pushing the study proposal, the need for a new fire station has been apparent since 2003, when the first of two citizen-led studies were conducted.
“This city needs a facility that meets the community needs for the next 50 years,” wrote Bill Kloster, a member of the city’s Airport Commission. “The art of fighting fires has changed greatly since the current station was built in 1964. … The proper room is necessary to store, maintain, and train, with new equipment and the equipment of the future.”
Among other issues with the current fire station is that three fire vehicles do not fit into the building, and the PFD must purchase trucks small enough to fit into the building. The current building lacks decontamination areas where firefighters can wash off toxins created by burning current building material. It is also short of storage and training space, including for out-of-town firefighters attending regional training.
Kloster argued for the professional study because “We cannot provide the diverse and dynamic facility this community needs by having a group of local citizens do the planning. … The city has done at least two such studies, in 2003 and again in 2009, that have not produced the necessary outcome. The city must undertake a planning effort with professional engineers and designers to solicit input, hold public discussion, reach a decision, and provide basic information on site, size and cost.
“Everyone wants to know where we are going to build the new station and how much will it cost. Until we do the proper planning it is impossible to make an intelligent prediction.
“I know the city cannot afford a new fire center, especially if we have no idea of what we really need. The city will never be able to afford it, but we also cannot afford to not pursue this need. … This community found a way to build a new police station, a new library, [and] a new events center and provide additional new multifamily housing; we can find a way to provide this public safety need as well. We, the city government, the Common Council and the community just need to make this our number one priority.”
The Platteville Fire Department dates back to 1951, when Hook and Ladder Co. No. 1 and the Mound City Engine Co. merged. The two fire forces had formed separately in 1874, the same year of a large downtown fire that April.
Platteville’s second fire station was in the south side of the 1883 city hall. The companies moved to the north side of the Municipal Building when it was completed in 1929. The current fire station opened in 1964.
The city built a new police station in 2010, 19 years after it was identified after the Common Council determined it was the city’s number one priority, according to the Police Department website. Part of the funding for the police station came from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
On the other hand, the cost of a new EMS garage was part of the reason the city reached an agreement with Southwest Health for the hospital to take over EMS services from the former Platteville EMS in 2015.