West Chester is building a new firehouse. The problem: Where to work until then?

A picture inside West Chester Twp. Fire Rescue Station 73. The station was built in 1970 and remodeled and enlarged in 1992. DENISE CALLAHAN/STAFF

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A picture inside West Chester Twp. Fire Rescue Station 73. The station was built in 1970 and remodeled and enlarged in 1992. DENISE CALLAHAN/STAFF

West Chester Twp. is one step closer to replacing its cramped, dilapidated and in some respects dangerous fire station on Duff Drive, signing a $258,352 architectural contract with Emersion Design.

The trustees Tuesday approved the contract and also the plan that calls for razing Station 73 rather than trying to retrofit and expand it.

Trustee Board President Mark Welch said after a presentation last month that adding onto the existing 49-year-old building is fraught with potential pitfalls.

“For me there’s no question as to razing the existing structure and building a new one,” Welch said. “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.”

“It was cheaper to raze the building and build a new one, which blew me away,” Trustee Ann Becker told the Journal-News. “I guess it makes sense when you are dealing with old pipes and old electrical and all that.”

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Preliminary cost estimates to build a new station are about $3.5 million. Renovating the structure that was built in 1970 and then expanded through the years would cost $3.6 million.

Fire Chief Rick Prinz said those estimates are for a 10,000-square-foot firehouse, but officials don’t plan to go that big.

Township Finance Director Ken Keim said previously 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.

The new station will be under construction for a year to 18 months, and Prinz said the department is searching for rental space to house the equipment and staff in the interim. He said the task is challenging because they need drive-through bays and only require a short-term lease.

“Whatever site meets our need to keep our response times respectable, a site that will facilitate our operational needs as far as the build out is concerned for the interior space, it has to obviously have a drive-in/drive-out door so we’re able to get the trucks in and out of the building,” he said.

“So there’s a lot of variables, a lot of factors that are built into the space we’re going to get into and obviously the best bang for our buck.”

MORE: Estimated $3 million to replace West Chester’s oldest fire station

Prinz said the department only needs about 3,000-square-feet, but in the industrial areas he has toured, most of the spaces are 5,000 to 10,000 square feet and the leases are all longer term. He said if he can find a 3,000-square-foot space it would likely cost $18,000 for a year. They budgeted $500,000 for things like design, contingencies and temporary space.

Prinz told the Journal-News previously there are some aspects of the existing station that are safety concerns. The turnout gear for the three or four firefighter/paramedics who man the station are stored in cages next to the Quint fire truck, so close it’s difficult 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.

Prinz said officials plan to tear the old station down in January or February and start construction in the spring.

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