By RJ Wolcott
Meridian Times staff writer
OKEMOS – The central fire station issue continues to smolder as Meridian board members work to put out the flames of indecision.
The township board has made numerous decisions on how to reorganize the fire department over the past few months. However, questions of where to put the new station and what features the new station will have are still on the table.
At the April 3 township meeting, the board released a status report on the central fire station, located at 2150 Clinton St. The survey, which was conducted jointly by The Wieland-Davco Corporation and Hobbs+Black Architects, was to determine the feasibility of renovating the existing station.
The study revealed code violations including a lack of gender separate bathroom and living facilities. The study concluded that the cost of renovation would range from $540,000 to $620,000.
Supervisor Susan McGillicuddy said there have been issues with the central station for years. McGillicuddy pointed to issues with building maintenance, staffing and the fact that it is the oldest station.
The original station was built in the 1950’s, with additions made in the 1970’s. The final renovation occurred in 1985 and involved attaching the Okemos Library.
The scope of the project inspired the board to look for other options. Trustee Brett Dreyfus proposed using a two station approach. Dreyfus said because response times were not severely impacted by the loss of a central station, it would be best to just stop using it.
Board members asked Gerald Richards, the township manager, as well as Fire Chief Fred Cowper, to come up with a plan for the April 17 meeting. This proposal would aid the board as well as the public in understanding the costs. Board members also asked to see proposed locations.
At the April 17 meeting, Cowper and Richards unveiled the specifics for the new station. The proposed station would be 10,175 to 11,736 square feet depending on the number of apparatus bays. The new station would also have a training room which is desperately needed according to Cowper. The total cost of the project was estimated to be between $2.4 and $2.7 million.
Richards said that the money would come from a new township millage. The cost of the 45 mills would be approximately $17 a year for a resident with a $200,000 home.
The board was split on the proposal. Supervisor McGillicuddy and Trustee Ochberg brought up issues of cost. They were also concerned with a duplication of services in regards to office space.
“We have a duty to protect the citizens, but we also have a duty to protect the township’s pocketbook,” McGillicuddy said. She also advocated for a more regional approach, combining resources with neighboring townships instead of trying to do everything at the local level.
Other board members were in favor of adding a new station. Trustee John Veenstra highlighted the fact that the primary job of the fire department was making EMT and paramedic runs.
“It is a paramedic department that occasionally fights fires,” Veenstra said.
Veenstra also said that the majority of the runs go out to densely populated areas of senior citizens. This means the north and central stations receive the most activity.
Veenstra said that he didn’t mind spending the money for a new station as long as it was done right. He advocated for an additional bay for storing emergency vehicles as well as an energy efficient infrastructure.
Residents also came out to voice their support for a new station. Leonard Provencher said that he supports a facility which provides separate living quarters for male and female employees. He also expressed gratitude with the quality of the bonding information.
Provencher made a comment regarding the placement of the proposed station. “I would be in favor of the triangulated placement of our stations, not all of them being on Okemos road.”
Two proposed locations were outlined in the April 17 board packet. The first was on Central Park and Okemos Road, which the township currently owns. The second location was on West Grand River Ave. This location would be able to service the more easterly residents and was favored by several board members.
Overall the board asked for further information regarding proposed locations. Several board members said they believed the proposal would pass and that it was simply a matter of time.
Richards said that he believes the board will have all the bond language hammered out by June, allowing the proposal to go on the November ballot. At that point, it would all be in the hands of Meridian residents.