Flood Damage, Age, Annexation May Push Bloomington (IN) to Replace Four of Five Fire Stations

Boris Ladwig

Herald-Times, Bloomington, Ind.

(MCT)

Oct. 20—The city of Bloomington may have to replace or move four of its five existing fire stations and, pending on the outcome of annexation, add two more stations, for a total cost exceeding $30 million.

Fire Chief Jason Moore told The Herald-Times that an engineering study recommended replacement of the three stations on the city’s north, east and south sides.

According to the 2018 engineering study, Station 3, at 810 N. Woodlawn Ave., had already exceeded its expected life by about six years, the chief said. Among other challenges, firefighters are struggling with the station’s size — the gym is in the bedroom area — and undersized water lines.

Firefighter Jordan Canada, who also is the president of the firefighters union, said the station dates back to the 1960s, and whenever stations get that old, maintenance costs rise to such an extent that building a new station becomes more cost effective.

He also said best practices among firefighters and technological advancements change, which means the layout of older stations sometimes undermines firefighters’ efforts to respond to calls as quickly as possible.

Moore and Canada said Station 5, on the city’s south side, at 1987 S. Henderson St., though relatively new, also does not meet firefighters’ needs well.

Canada said the city converted the building into a fire station and it is “extremely small” and probably not in an ideal location. Moore said the department also is struggling with high costs of upgrading the station’s energy efficiency.

The chief said Station 4, on the city’s east side, at 2201 E. Third St., at the time of the study had only a few years left in its life cycle.

Flooding this summer inundated the main station and headquarters on East Fourth Street, ruining electrical systems, communication equipment and controls for the facility’s backup generator. Moore is running the department out of a temporary station at 226 S. College Ave.

That means four of five stations may have to be replaced or moved. And the chief said two additional stations, on the city’s southeast and southwest sides, have been under consideration.

In the fire department’s 2022 budget proposal, on which the city council may take action next week, Moore has budgeted about $5.5 million each to replace stations 3, 4 and 5, and another $11.5 million for new stations on the southwest and southeast sides. That’s a combined $28 million, and that figure excludes replacement of the main station as well as urgent repairs for stations 1 and 2, estimated at $600,000.

In addition, Moore said, Station 3, on the north side, has to be moved because its response area overlaps too much with Station 1 and leaves some response gaps on the city’s north side. Where exactly that station would go has yet to be determined.

The annexation proposal complicates matters further.

Mayor John Hamilton’s proposal is targeting seven areas for annexation. The city would grow on its west, south and east sides, but not on its north and northeast edges. The plan also would add three “islands” that are surrounded by the city on its west side. The proposal would add to the city about 14,300 residents, meaning the city’s population would swell to near 100,000. The city’s physical size would increase by nearly 56%.

Moore said which areas get annexed likely will affect the number and locations of the fire stations, although state legislation passed in 2019 stipulates that any part of the Monroe Fire Protection District that is annexed by the city will continue to be served by the district rather than becoming the responsibility of the city department’.

Given that four of the five existing stations need to be replaced, the chief said picking the right locations may allow the city to just add one additional station instead of two.

Moore said the city also needs to keep in mind that the stations likely will remain in their locations for 50 to 70 years, which means it must place them carefully to accommodate future growth.

Boris Ladwig is the city government reporter for The Herald-Times. Contact him at bladwig@heraldt.com.

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