Meridian Times staff writer
“The saying is that on average, a firefighter spends one third of his life in the fire station,” Tavis Millerov, a fire inspector and paramedic in Meridian Township, said. “This isn’t just where we work, it’s our home away from home.”
Built in 1957, Station 91, also known as the Central Fire Station, served Meridian Township for nearly 60 years before it was shut down on Feb. 12, 2014. The station was fully operational for the full time period, but as the building got older, more and more issues arose, largely due to the limited repairs and improvements.
“The building has been a problem since day one when I got here 16 years ago,” Meridian Township Fire Chief Fred Cowper said. “When it was built, the fire service was pretty much concerned with just fire. We weren’t into the medical delivery and transporting to the hospital back then.”
“Today we have a tremendous amount of equipment,” Cowper said. “We are into water rescue, advanced life support and we transport patients to the hospital.”
Back in 2012, the Wieland-Davco Corporation and Hobbs + Black Architects were contracted to run a study to determine the future of the fire station.
The study found that renovation would not be feasible for three main reasons. The first was code compliance issues. The bathrooms, walls, exits, fire suppression, electrical system, heating and cooling systems, lighting and sleeping quarters did not meet compliance codes. On top of that, the building envelope is significantly deteriorated and the lot itself is inadequate for all the equipment that needs to be stored on the site.
The study had three companies give estimates on how much it would cost to repair parts of the building. Roof Technologies Inc. estimated it would cost $65,000 to repair the roof and Fibertec estimated it would cost $1,334 to run an air-quality investigation and another $2,680 to run an asbestos inspection.
Based on the study’s findings, renovations were not recommended, an idea that many officials in Meridian Township seemed to accept.
“The condition of the building is deplorable,” Township Manager Frank Walsh said. “The building has deteriorated over the years. We have tried to maintain it to the best of our ability, but the decision was made to not put any more money into it.”
Former township manager Jerry Richards echoed those thoughts.
“The building used up its use,” Richards said. “The building is not like your typical municipal building. It’s right up there with buildings in poor conditions.”
Millerov, a member of the Meridian Township Fire Department for the past 14 years, has spent the majority of his time working out of the Central Fire Station.
During his time at the Central Fire Station, Millerov said he experienced a number of problems with the building, such as a leaking roof, parts of the ceiling collapsing, water backup from drains and plumbing problems.
“The building was old and outdated,” Millerov said. “It has outlasted its usefulness.”
The township tried to repair the building, but eventually enough was enough.
“We put $25,000 into repairing the roof, which was adequate for the time being,” Richards said. “We had to limit what we put into it. It was like putting a Band-Aid on cut. The repairs were a good short-term fix, but they weren’t long term solutions.”
In addition to the building deteriorating, the addition of females to the fire department is another reason that the station needs to be replaced.
“Back in 1957, there weren’t any females in the fire service,” Cowper said. “The station has just one bathroom and one shower. Because the women firefighters were evolved in that station, they don’t complain about it.”
With a new station in mind, the township sought a millage to build one and the Township Board agreed to put it on the ballot.
“Two years ago the people voted and approved the $3.5 million millage to build a new fire station,” Cowper said.
There has been some opposition to building the station at the corner of Okemos Road and Central Park Drive. A group of condominium owners across the street have opposed the new station.
“You can’t take the $3.5 million and walk away from that site,” Cowper said. “The voters voted for the fire station to be on that site. Our proposal is specific to the one lot.”
“I think it is the right location, personally,” Richards said. It’s time to move forward. We had no problems with the old neighbors. In 30 years, I never heard one complaint from the old neighbors of the Central Fire Station.”
The new station would provide the fire department with space for all their equipment in a building that meets all the compliance codes.
“The old site was too small to fit all the technology that the fire department has,” Richards said. “The limited space caused quite a few problems.”
The station will have offices for Cowper and his staff
“My office right now is in a split building with the police department,” Cowper said. “In the new building, the administrative offices will be in the fire station. That’s what I’ve wanted for 16 years. I will get to see my battalion chiefs when they come by and on their rounds. I want to be in the fire station where I can talk to my firefighters.”
“Having the offices in the fire station creates a conducive work environment,” Millerov said. “Being in the same station will eliminate the disconnect between the administration and the station.”
Cowper said that the new fire station is expected to be up and running in May of 2015.
In the meantime, a temporary fire station has been set up in the Service Center.
“We have everything moved out of the old fire station,” Facilities Superintendent Dennis Antone said. “We have a special use permit for the building and have hired contractors to set the station up. It should be up and running by the week of April 21.”
“A temporary station is really needed,” Millerov said. “We have had three stations since the early 1990s. Eliminating a station changes the response time coverage.”
Meridian Township has one thing decided for sure and that is that the old Central Fire Station will no longer be used
“The bulldozer will be the best friend of that old building, but the land is valuable,” Cowper said