Central Emergency Services in Soldotna is hoping to be a little less centrally located by building a new Station 1 on a larger lot with more room to grow.
Station 1 sits on a .86-acre lot on the corner of Binkley and the Sterling Highway. The original facility was built in 1961 with additions in the 1970s and ’80s. As Deputy Chief Dan Grimes told the Soldotna Planning and Zoning Commission on Wednesday, the facility doesn’t fit the station’s needs and the problems are only getting worse.
“The station is no longer suitable for adding on anymore. The station right now is not seismically stable enough to build up and there is no more room on the lot to move out. In fact, part of the problem is there’s no more room on the lot, period,” Grimes said.
The apparatus bays have no room for maintenance and storage space is maxed out. Station 1 is the hub facility for CES. During an emergency call, responding vehicles from any of the other four CES stations return to Station 1 for servicing. There’s barely room to get the vehicles in the parking lot, much less to store all the equipment needed for servicing and resupplying.
Inside, the training room seats eight — not the 60 to 80 personnel that CES has at any given time. The sleeping quarters hold bunk beds and have to be coed, since there aren’t enough rooms for separation.
There are structural problems, too. The liner around a cistern under the hose tower is leaking, so water is doing untold damage to the surrounding concrete. And Grimes said it just doesn’t sit well to be in a public safety building that might not be safe during an earthquake.
“The seismically unstable is a really big thing for us. As a public safety building, we’re supposed to be buildings that people can come to if there’s a natural disaster. So our buildings are built to stand up to a bit more serious of an incident and our building’s just not rated for that,” Grimes said.
The push for a new station ramped up in 2016 with the formation of a site selection committee. There’s a lot to consider. They want a site that will address the failings of the current facility and give them room to grow. They also need access to the highway at a lighted intersection.
“Having controlled intersections near the station is a pretty critical thing for us so that we don’t blast out from a fire station into 55-mph traffic with no traffic-control devises to help warn people that we’re coming,” Grimes said.
And then there are community considerations. A loud, busy fire station isn’t the best fit for a residential neighborhood. But being within five road miles of a fire station does lower insurance rates.
“A big part of our selection process was to look at how we could benefit the most while impacting the least amount of people,” Grimes said.
The committee is recommending 4.25 acres on East Redoubt Avenue, across from Petco. That would require Homestead Lane behind Walgreen’s be brought through to East Redoubt so the station could have access to the lighted intersection of the Kenai Spur and Sterling Highways.
Part of the site is owned by Stanely and Sons LLC, which ran the old Ford dealership on the corner. The rest is owned by the Soldier Creek Corporation, owned by the Mullen family, who homesteaded the area.
The estimated price tag is $11 million, though that likely wouldn’t cover the cost of the road. Grimes said CES is pursuing a capital expenditure from the Legislature.