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Borough moves forward with plans to replace Central Emergency Services station

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Elizabeth Earl
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KDLL
The CES board has known that the current station needed to be replaced or renovated since 2004, according to a memo submitted to the assembly Tuesday.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough is moving forward with a plan to build a new Central Emergency Services station in downtown Soldotna, pending voters being willing to fund it.

CES covers most of the central peninsula outside of Nikiski and Kenai, stretching from Kasilof to the end of Funny River Road to Sterling. Station 1 is the biggest station and is currently housed in the big building across Binkley Street from Safeway. It was originally built in 1957 and has been updated several times, most recently in the 1980s, but the CES leadership has been saying for years that its operations have outgrown that lot and building and they need to size up.

On average, they respond to about 2,500 calls each year out of that station alone, according to the borough. This year, calls are up 15 percent, according to the CES board meeting minutes from May.

The CES board has known that the current station needed to be replaced or renovated since 2004, according to a memo submitted to the assembly Tuesday.

"It was determined that the current fire station facility was inadequate for the daily operations, emergency response, workload, and staffing to meet the demands of the Central Emergency Service Area,” the memo said. “The Borough has completed a preliminary engineering report and study that documented many issues indicating that the current station is undersized, has structural and building code deficiencies, lack of storage, living, office, fire truck and ambulance space.”

The problem is that the lot is too small to house a new building and all the equipment that CES stores. It also shares a lot with the Soldotna Police Department. The borough has been considering where to put the new station since 2017, considering location, cost and land availability, and has finally landed on purchasing a number of lots on Reger Street, which is behind the current CES station.

"The CES Service Area has recommended that replacing CES Station 1 as the number 1 priority since 2015 and requests that the administration to seek funding for the construction for a new fire station through the issuance of general obligation bonds,” the memo to the assembly said.

The borough assembly approved a resolution at its Tuesday meeting to purchase the land at $788,000, which is less than what the CES board set aside in fiscal year 2020 for the project. The purchase includes eight properties from two different owners—S&B Properties and the Jane Phillips Beer Trust.

While the CES service board had already set aside the money to buy the property, they’re looking to voters for the funds to actually plan and build the station. The current cost estimate for planning, design, construction and all other associated costs with the new station is $16.5 million. That would translate to about a .36 mill rate increase, or $36 extra dollars on $100,000 of property value, according to the borough.

Now the assembly has to decide whether to go to the voters with that bond package. This fall, voters will already be considering whether to approve another, much larger bond package for school repairs—that one is for about $65 million dollars. This bond package would appear on the same ballot.

The assembly is scheduled to consider the CES bond package again at its meeting on July 5.

Elizabeth Earl is the news reporter/evening host for summer 2021 at KDLL. She is a high school teacher, with a background writing for the Peninsula Clarion and has been a freelance contributor to several publications in Alaska.
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