New $3.5M West Chester fire station would ease space and safety concerns

West Chester officials appear likely to choose building a new $3.5 million fire station over renovating the current station, which is cramped and contains safety concerns, officials said.

The trustees have multiple options for replacing the 49-year-old Station 73, but two of the three officials say tearing down the obsolete and potentially dangerous structure and building a new station is a “no-brainer.”

“It makes a lot more sense to raze and start fresh,” Trustee Ann Becker said. “From what I saw, cost-wise and operations-wise it makes sense. And if we’re going to have this fire station for decades, having the best situation for our firefighters, it would be net positive for the township.”

The total cost estimate to build a new is $3.5 million. Renovating the structure that was built in 1970 and then expanded through the years would cost $3.6 million.

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Township Finance Director Ken Keim said he will recommend the trustees pay cash for the new station out of the 747 Tax Increment Financing fund. The TIF has a balance of $24.8 million and expires in 2028. It generates $6.5 to $7 million annually.

Keim said he set a policy on TIF usage after the trustees sold $14 million in TIF-backed bonds to help pay for the Union Centre Boulevard interchange project.

“If it’s over $5 million then I recommend anyway, that we issue the bonds,” Keim said. “If it’s under then use cash, that would be my recommendation.”

The trustees approved hiring a consultant a year ago to study the inadequate station. Tim Wiley with Emersion Design showed the trustees the options for the site, and said renovating the building is fraught with potential problems and “although it works it’s not ideal.”

He said if they added onto the existing structure, one side would be taller than the other. Retrofitting systems like HVAC has its own set of concerns, he said.

“For me there’s no question as to razing the existing structure and building a new one,” said Trustee Board President Mark Welch. “It was more expensive to rebuild the place. Like he says there may be other things that pop up with regard to maintenance because you’re connecting these roofs and it’s not a single roof and you get leaks and you get air gaps and all kinds of things.”

Wiley showed a schematic for a 10,000-square-foot building but said it could drop to around 8,000, which would decrease costs.

The station had just two bays for vehicles when built almost 50 years ago before offices, sleeping quarters and other fire station necessities were added in 1992.

Fire Chief Rick Prinz told the Journal-News previously there are some aspects of the existing station that are safety concerns. The turnout gear for the three-to-four firefighter/paramedics who man the station are stored in cages right next to the Quint fire truck, so close it’s hard to get things in and out of the truck.

The proximity to the fumes from the vehicles and sunlight that streams through the open bays is degrading the fabric and making the equipment potentially unsafe, Prinz said. The close quarters also means the men and women who work there are exposed to contaminants that can cause cancer.

Wiley said the new building will have a “dirty” side where the turnout gear and other tools of the trade are kept that is completely separate from the clean side for living quarters, “we need to design it in a way to really limit the risk to the firefighters.”

The new building will be 2,000 to 4,000 square feet bigger than the old one, which is ease congestion for equipment, such as the workout machines that are now in a room only large enough for one person to use them.

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Other features that are not necessarily safety concerns are the cramped sleeping quarters and lockers that sit in a hallway, providing zero privacy. The firefighters’ community room doubles as a training room, so personnel hooked up to the computer there for joint training with the other stations, have to try to concentrate over the din of people cooking, eating and relaxing.

“For the new construction you’ll have a new facility that will last 50-plus years,” Wiley said. “The operational layout will be exactly what is desired and efficient, much less likely to have air and water breaches, less maintenance. This is an opportunity to really have a highly efficient, sustainable facility.

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