Village trio expects quality firehouse

Nathan Domenighini

Village board trustees Ginger Hermann and Tony Huette said they were

relieved March 17 after the board approved an agreement with FGM

Architects.

The two are heading research and planning for the village’s new firehouse.

After months of evaluating FGM Architects’ experience with fire stations,

the village settled an agreement with the company to design the Morton

Fire Department’s new headquarters.

The company, located in Peoria, has designed about 50 fire stations.

Village board trustees previously visited the Streator Fire Department to

evaluate one of the company’s designs. There are plans to visit others in

the future, Huette said.

Hermann said the company’s experience and local proximity played a major

role in the board’s decision.

“They’re 10 minutes away,” she said. “We expect to see them a lot.”

Construction of Morton’s new headquarters is scheduled to begin April 1,

2009.

But, much has to be done before then. Preliminary designs are far from

guaranteed, and a lot still needs to be addressed, fire chief Joe Kelley

said.

“The real work is just about to begin,” he said.

Huette, Hermann and Kelley were in good spirits Monday as they discussed

the next steps. The trio has worked cooperatively to find affordable, yet

quality, solutions for the firehouse.

Hermann said she has been involved in planning since the firehouse was

pegged as a necessity in the 1999 comprehensive plan.

She said the village has been planning and budgeting for the firehouse for

quite a while.

“We’re not totally at the beginning,” Hermann said.

At the time of the 1999 comprehensive plan, the Morton Police Department

was made a priority.

Hermann said the police department was in dire need of a new station.

Space was a major issue at the time.

Due to the costs of both a new firehouse and police station, the two could

not be funded for simultaneous construction, she added.

Space and location currently an issue

The hope for a new station never left Kelley’s memory, he said.

“I’ve wanted this since the day I started as chief,” he said.

One comprehensive plan later, in 2007, the necessity was again brought to

light. A new firehouse is now a likelihood.

Over the years, Kelley said he has noticed a need for more and more space.

“I used to say our biggest problem was bay space,” he said.

As the village continued to grow, the department continued to add staff.

Now, he said, there is a need for more living space, office space and

bedrooms for paramedics (the current rooms used to be offices).

It has gotten to the point where some are awakened by the sound of a

toilet flushing, Kelley said. “For the paramedics, that’s their home for a

third of the year.”

In the bay, volunteer firefighters’ gear sits right next to one of the

trucks, posing a safety hazard when the department needs to respond to a

call, he said.

The department’s aerial unit only clears the doors by inches.

With such narrow doors that exit onto a narrow road where cars are

sometimes parked, Kelley said the trucks have problems getting out

quickly.

“We’ve hit cars across the street before,” he said.

One might think a station in the middle of town is convenient.

That is not the case, Kelley added.

“I think this station is too centrally located,” he said.

For example, when there are car shows on Main Street during the summer,

that affects the department’s routes and, in turn, response times, he

said.

All of this makes for the perfect time to build a new firehouse, he said.

“It is simply one of the prices of living in a physically growing

community,” he added.

The time to buy is now

With construction costs continually rising, Hermann said the best avenue

might be to use a loan to fund the firehouse.

Mayor Norm Durflinger mentioned it as a possibility in last year’s

state-of-the-village speech. The village board is still toying with the

idea, Hermann added.

“The longer we wait, the more it is going to cost,” she said. “We can use

a loan at an interest rate that is lower than the rising costs of

construction.”

“We’re trying to use the money very wisely,” she added.

The actual cost of the building is hard to gauge right now, she said. “Until the bids open, we won’t have an actual idea of the cost.”

A lot of time and effort will go into researching the costs and weighing

them with durability, Huette said.

The board is not looking for anything too visually extravagant, Hermann

said. But, it is important that the station fits in, she added.

Huette, Hermann and Kelley agreed, whatever comes of the new station, it

is going to be a quality building in its completion. Kelley said he

expects the new firehouse to be at least a 50-year building.

“The thing that keeps me up at night is in 50 years, will the chief then

look back and ask ‘What the heck was this guy thinking?’”