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South End fire department has big plans for Bayview

A new headquarters and training facility in Bayview can’t come too soon for South Whidbey fire officials.

“For the last several years we’ve been searching for a central facility for administration offices, a fire station and training area with a tower,” said Fire District 3 Chief Dan Stout.

“Bayview is centrally located with easy access to all points of the compass. Once we get the facility, this will complete our needs for many years,” he said.

The new facility could cost up to

$4 million, and Fire District 3 commissioners are considering their options about how to fund the project. The fire district’s board of commissioners will hold a planning workshop to discuss both design and financing of the new building on Thursday.

Fire district officials believe the need for the new headquarters is real and must be addressed soon.

The call volume for Fire District 3 first responders has grown in the last five years. In 2003 they registered a total of 857 fire and medical calls.

Last year, it had risen to 1,857, of which 1,290 were medical-related.

Still, the district doesn’t have enough money to pay for the new facility. The board is considering several options and has spent the last year gathering information about how to fund the project.

The fire district has a tax levy of 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value, and the current capital improvement budget is less than $1 million. “That is not enough for a central facility,” Stout said.

The obvious choices center on property tax increases; options on the table vary in the structure and how long they will take property owners to pay off.

“We’re looking at a bond, a levy lid lift or a maintenance-and-operations levy over six years.”

Should commissioners decide on a voter approved levy lift, they’ll have to move fast. Aug. 12 is the final day for filing a resolution for the November general election.

The district has had trouble in the past at the ballot box. In the late 1990s, voters said “no” to an increase, but Stout believes they’ll understand the need better this time.

“Over the years, we’ve done a good job managing our money, or saved it and put it in the capital improvement fund,” he said. “The longer we wait, the more it will cost since construction estimates rise significantly each year.”

The district owns more than nine acres on Bayview Road just a half-mile north of the Bayview School, partly purchased from South Whidbey Commons, the other half from a private citizen.

Stout said the district’s architects are planning a campus-like setting.

“The meeting on Thursday is to see how much we need to get this built,” Stout said. “How much do we need and what’s the best way to get it? Over the last 12 years, we’ve used up our reserve funds and spent wisely.”

As an example, he cited the new

$2 million fire station on Camano Road in Langley, due to open in September.

That facility, built in conjunction with Island Transit, includes a 4,500-square-foot fire station and 61 parking spots for a park-and-ride.

Fire District 3 includes 57 miles of shoreline, and the fire department’s six stations cover 66 square miles of South Whidbey from Freeland to Clinton, including Langley, Bayview and Possession Point.

“Bayview is critical for us because it’s in the center of our fire protection area,” Stout explained. “Access to Highway 525, north to Freeland past the phone company or west into Langley.”

One of the district’s major challenges will be to design and build a fire training tower in an urban/rural environment. The tower has to serve the needs of island firefighters for years to come while providing realistic scenarios.

If there is a high concentration of garden apartments, the district must consider a balcony. If rescue training in confined spaces is a priority, the architects might want to include an elevator shaft.

Beyond the initial building cost, commissioners also need to think about bonds, filing fees, permits, soil tests, taxes, insurance and any variance for local building codes since a training tower is a “simulated” building.

Stout said he hopes to have the architectural drawings and permitting process completed by the end of the year.

Fire Commissioner Mike Helland said the training is a key facet to getting and keeping top quality volunteers.

“Right now, we have to send them to Oak Harbor and that presents a heavy commitment on their part,” Helland said. “Our volunteers have saved this community a lot of money over the years.”

Helland has faith in his fellow South Enders.

“We’ve been good custodians of the public’s money and I hope the people here trust the leadership of Fire District 3,” he said.

Jeff VanDerford can be reached at 221-5300 or jvanderford@southwhidbeyrecord.com.

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