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Opening Bell Sounds On New Fire Station Discussion

A committee is forming to study whether to build a new Fire Station on Centennial Drive.

Discussions on building an estimated $3 million fire station will formally begin in January. 

Mayor Dick Bolender will appoint a committee to study the issue after the city received a 15-acre piece of land on Centennial Drive at no charge, given to the city as part of a development agreement.

Officials have talked about replacing Fire Station 1, 240 E. Puetz Road, for several years. Bolender and others feel the time to strike is now following the land acquisition.

"It's time to move on a fire station," he said. "Fire Station 1 is kind of imploding on us."

That fire station is "inadequate" for modern-day fire protection, City Administrator Gerald Peterson said. It is in need of major repairs and does not have adaquate living space, room for training, storage space and is not complaint with the Americans with Disablities Act, Peterson said.

A recent water main break destroyed some equipment, and the roof is in dire shape. To try to add on or fix the station "would not be a good investment," Peterson said. 

The committee will have residents from all six districts and include Alderman Steve Scaffidi, who represents the district encompassing the would-be new fire station. Bolender, and other non-elected city officials, will also serve on the committee.

The group will present a recommendation to the Common Council, which has the final say. 

Alderman Ken Gehl, however, said the city is moving too fast. 

"It strikes me that this has skipped a step in the process," Gehl said. "We have never discussed, officially, building a fire station at that site ... I realize this is an ad hoc committee but we haven't decided even that we're building a new fire station, to be perfectly honest.

"I have serious reservations about this particular process, moving at the pace and direction it has without significant, formal discussion or dialogue at the council."

Other aldermen responded that forming the committee, which will be focused on gathering information, is a way to solicit feedback from the public. Meetings will be posted and are subject to the state's Open Meetings Law. 

Fire officials said their first choice on a site for a new fire station was on Puetz Road. The focus shifted to Centennial Drive after the free land acquisition, which saved "hundreds of thousands of dollars," said Doug Seymour, director of community development.

The land, at 255 E. Centennial Dr., is just east of Howell Avenue across from the post office. In addition to the fire station, the other part of the 15 acres would be used as a city park, Bolender said. 

The council previously decided that capital projects like this one will be paid for through a tax, called public utility aid, the state collects from We Energies and then re-distributes to the city. The tax is charged on We Energies for its new power plant on Elm Road in Oak Creek. 

Oak Creek officials believe that will mean some $3 million per year to the city, though it remains to be seen exactly how much money will come into the city. No matter the final number, the city has touted that building a new fire station, City Hall and library with this money means taxes will not be raised on residents.

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