Plans for Central Fire Station continue despite neighborhood controversy

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By Samantha VanHoef
The Meridian Times

After years of lawsuits and court rulings, plans for the Central Fire Station construction are moving forward. The Meridian Township project has been on hold since 2012 after residents of the neighboring condominium complex sued the township in hopes of receiving a court order to stop progress on the site.

“Now we’re waiting for the Michigan Supreme Court,” Meridian Township Treasurer Julie Brixie said. “The (condominium residents) have appealed the decision, but we have won all the way up and we’re waiting for the Supreme Court to reject it.”

Although there has not been an answer from the Michigan Supreme Court, the project is allowed to move forward because the court order to stop any progress was not granted to the residents of Autumn Park condominiums.

“When I arrived here to be the fire chief in 1998, some of the first things I looked at were equipment, the chain of command and the fire station replacement as one of the top priorities,” Fire Chief Fred Cowper said. “So we now have put a lot of work and effort in making that happen.”

The new Central Fire Station will be at the corner of Okemos Road and Central Park Drive, and includes space for the fire department’s administrative offices, new living areas for firefighters and will be up to “green” standards.

“When I started in the fire service back in 1972 in Detroit, there were 1,600 firefighters and there were zero females,” Cowper said. “So with the station we aborted, which was built in 1957, there weren’t any female firefighters. There was one shower, one bathroom and one living area, which was a struggle. Now we’ll be building a new fire station with separate showers for men and women, bathrooms and living areas and those kind of things. Those are just a few things that will help move us into the twenty-first century.”

Plans for the new station include a main entrance off Okemos Road. According to Autumn Park real estate agent Erica McAvoy, this driveway could reduce the impact the station would have on condominium residents who use Central Park as their main drive.

“If you buy a condo on a mall service drive, you’re going to expect traffic,” McAvoy said. “If you bought 10 acres out in the country, you’re expecting some serenity to come with that, but not a brownstone next to the mall. I have a feeling the majority of the people like where they live, but they just didn’t think about vacant land is not always forever going to be vacant land.”

The previous fire station on Clinton Road has been vacated and, according to Brixie, is “functionally obsolete.”

“The roof started leaking and the mold got really awful and we had to close it down,” Brixie said. “The reason that it became such a mess was that we planned to replace it for about 15 years but we couldn’t scrape the money together. Finally we said ‘We can’t go any farther. We have to ask the voters if they would be willing to pay for this and what direction do they want us to take with our future ambulance and fire service.’ The voters overwhelming supported it.”

Currently, the previous Central Fire Station crew is working out of the township Service Center which also houses the Parks and Recreation Department.

“I think firefighters have the ability to adapt to whatever situation you put them in, but knowing that it’s just a temporary situation I think it’s working very well,” Cowper said. “The center they’re at now is not optimal at all, but it will work temporarily.”

Ground for construction of the new fire station will be broken in late March with plans for completion by December 2015.

“We are so excited about this,” Cowper said. “We’ve put so much time and effort into planning this. A lot of great things are happening in the township and we feel we’ll be prepared to respond to all of the needs— they’re going to continue to be increasing. We understand that and we are going to be prepared.”

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