Fire district buys acreage for central station

"South Whidbey's fire commissioners pledged more than $236,000 last week to buy land on Thompson Road for a future district office building, training facility, and Island County Sheriff's Office precinct.In a special meeting Wednesday night, Fire Protection District 3's three commissioners voted unanimously to sign payments totaling $120,676 for 10 acres of wooded land and agreed to pay about $111,000 more for an adjoining 9.3-acre parcel. The purchases come out of a months-long search for property undertaken by district Chief Don Smith. Under the direction of the commissioners, Smith has spent much of this year looking for property in the Bayview area suitable for building a new facility to house the district's administrative offices, emergency medical services, training equipment, and sheriff's precinct offices. Smith and the commissioners have wanted to move the district offices and medical division out of FD 3's Verlane Street station for more than two years. As late as last year, they planned to move those functions to a new fire station in Freeland. They have since rejected that idea because the new Freeland station, which will be built on Cameron Road, is not centrally located.Smith said the Thompson Road acreage fits the district's requirements. Because it is heavily wooded, it will shield district buildings, vehicles, and training facilities from view in what is currently a rural agricultural neighborhood. Thompson Road is also better located on Highway 525 in terms of traffic visibility than the Verlane Street station. Smith said pulling emergency vehicles onto the road will be safer in the new location.The acreage made the news earlier this year when Mill Creek developer Sam Spencer proposed building a 75-unit mobile home park in that location. Area residents rejected the idea in a public meeting in April and Spencer complied with their decision.Smith said the fire district's facility will be a good neighbor. In fact, he said, road residents will hardly know the facilities are there.It's in the woods and it's screened, he said.Though the district has not begun to plan its new building, Smith said he does know that it will not be home to fire engines for years to come. Engine Company 36, which is currently stationed on Verlane Street, will remain in its current location. Medical vehicles, marine rescue vehicles and boats, and paid district staff will move into the new building. The building would also be the site of commissioner meetings and the sheriff's precinct, which is currently housed in a rented building in downtown Freeland.Island County Sheriff Mike Hawley said Thursday he was encouraged to hear about the land purchase. His agency's South Whidbey precinct has had an itinerant existence for the past five years. Its first home was in FD 3's Clinton fire station. Hawley said he talked with Smith during the past two years about moving into a new Freeland fire station and had offered to contribute $100,000 to the project. His office currently pays $1,400 a month for its rental precinct.Having both agencies in the same building will be a responsible use of tax money, Hawley said.I think the opportunity to build one facility is in the taxpayers' interest, he said.Smith said the land was a lucky find. Had the district waited a few more years, there might not have been any land available with good highway access and a central location. The fire district earlier had its eye on property off Coles Road, but forest zoning precluded the purchase. "

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