Fire district pursues Bayview headquarters

Rusty Palmer, chief of South Whidbey Fire/EMS, speaks with the commissioners about a $23,000 contract renewal to reevaluate the design and planning of a new complex in Bayview.  - Ben Watanabe / The Record
Rusty Palmer, chief of South Whidbey Fire/EMS, speaks with the commissioners about a $23,000 contract renewal to reevaluate the design and planning of a new complex in Bayview.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / The Record

South Whidbey Fire/EMS has outgrown its $1.5 million 2002-built headquarters in Freeland and is shopping for new digs in Bayview, officials say.

District fire commissioners approved a $23,385 increase to renew the fire protection district’s contract with Mount Vernon-based Carletti Architects this week.

The renewal was prompted after Chief Rusty Palmer searched Clinton, Langley, Bayview and Freeland for administrative office space to lease.

“There’s just not space suitable for us here,” said Palmer at the commissioners meeting, Aug. 13.

Administrative personnel are housed in the Freeland station. The district recently had to replace the facility’s failing septic tank for $11,000.

The preliminary estimate in 2010, when the new Bayview station was first pursued, was around $4.4 million, though it fluctuated as high as $8 million.

The original plan included a 10,000-square-foot, two-bay fire station, a 5,400-square-foot administration building and a 400-square-foot training tower. It is planned for the property on Bayview Road between the Bayview School and Good Cheer Food Bank.

Leasing space for the administration was ruled out after the cost was deemed too high by fire district leaders.

“We didn’t feel the cost to benefit was efficient enough for the public,” said Mike Helland, chairman of the fire commission, who was in favor of moving the administration out of the Freeland fire station.

“There’s a certain amount of inefficiency being housed at a fire station.”

South Whidbey Fire/EMS covers 66 square miles and 54 miles of shoreline from south of Greenbank to Clinton. Nine paid staff and about 100 volunteers staff stations in Clinton, Maxwelton, Langley, Saratoga, Bayview and Freeland.

Moving to a more central location in the South Whidbey Fire/EMS service area is one of the driving factors in the creation of the Bayview campus.

The current Bayview station located near Hanson’s Building Supply received nearly $93,000 in renovations and upgrades this year.

Part of the contract renewal is to look at redesigning the administration building and fire station. Combining conference rooms and kitchens, for example, could save the district thousands of dollars in construction costs.

Palmer wanted to eliminate “duality,” such as combining two kitchens and two conference rooms into one for each. Cutting construction costs for those rooms is expected to more than cover the cost of the contract renewal.

“The risk is we spend $23,000 now and don’t do anything for a long time,” Palmer said.

When the Bayview facility will be built, however, remained an elusive date for district leaders. The soonest the commissioners could have a report to vote on, Helland said, would be early in 2014.

“It took about 15 years to get Freeland done,” Helland said. “I imagine it’ll take 15 years to get Bayview done.”

At issue is funding work for the new station. Though it was disliked by all three commissioners, the Bayview station will likely be built in phases, possibly one structure at a time.

“All three at the same time without a bond or financing that spreads the cost over time, we don’t have capital reserves of that size to pull the plug and do the construction,” Helland said.

Last fall, the district successfully appealed to voters for a 15-cent levy lid lift to 76 cents per $1,000 of assessed value.

At the time, some levy critics questioned the need for more money in relation to the district’s capital expenses on fire engines and stations, particularly the Langley station.

“Anybody that does some investigation into our ‘palatial’ fire stations will be pleasantly surprised with the brick and brass,” Helland said. “The facilities are going to serve this community for probably a century.”


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