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Fire hall at risk may get a boost

Urban renewal money in conjunction with a grant for seismic upgrades might be used to rehabilitate Jacksonville’s fire hall.

The town’s urban renewal agency board last week approved starting the process to borrow up to $1.5 million.

Up to $1 million of the money might be allocated toward a fire hall rebuild, said City Administrator Jeff Alvis. He hopes to secure a state seismic improvement grant for $500,000 or more. Cost of the work hasn’t been determined, but Alvis thinks it would fall between $1.5 million and $2 million.

For more than a decade, city officials and the community have discussed the need to replace or rebuild the fire hall, which would be at risk in a major earthquake. The 1950s structure is located on C Street between North Third and Fourth streets.

“We can’t be putting this on the back burner anymore,” said David Jesser, chair of the board. City councilors and the mayor serve as urban renewal directors.

The older building has a number of limitations, said interim fire Chief Wayne Painter, including lack of separate living arrangements for women firefighters, lack of on-site storage space, and a single meeting space for the CERT team and the public that also serves as a workout room. The station is staffed by two firefighters around the clock.

“If we don’t have enough water in one of our engines, it would sit too high and hit the door coming in,” said Painter. There’s no compressor at the station, so air tanks need to be filled at the Applegate Fire District.

Addition of a second floor to the 3,300-square-foot structure might be considered to provide more space. The owners of a narrow lot adjacent to the fire hall recently gained approval to construct a two-story residential building on their site.

“I think we would do a pretty good job with $1.5 million to $2 million. We don’t want to go too far beyond that,” said Alvis.

Rehabilitation of the 1883 Jackson County Courthouse three years ago for use as City Hall was achieved for about $1 million, with the city acting as general contractor. The city might take that approach again, with an engineering firm overseeing the seismic work, Alvis said.

With enlargement, the fire hall should be able to serve projected needs for the community, said Alvis. An engineering firm will examine the building in the near future in an effort to figure out how much seismic work would be required and to estimate costs.

State grants for seismic upgrades to fire stations are available from Business Oregon. While previous discussions primarily focused on building a new station, the availability of the grants makes the rebuild approach more attractive.

The Tangent Fire District in the Willamette Valley received a $1.2 million seismic rehabilitation grant in June 2018 to retrofit a 12,000-square-foot fire station. That structure was built in 1989.

While the state grants are limited to seismic work, they would cover connective factors, such as a wall that might need to be torn out and restored to allow for the seismic upgrades, Alvis said.

The Jacksonville Urban Renewal Agency still has the ability to borrow up to $2.49 million against future tax increment revenues. It is operating under a 2014 budget plan. It has unspent designations totaling $1.43 million, with $360,000 earmarked for the cemetery and $265,000 already designated for the fire hall. There’s also $150,000 earmarked for water projects and $300,000 for other projects and administration.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Tony Boom at tboomwriter@gmail.com.

Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune{ } Fire Capt. Brian Barrett, left, and firefighter Josh Bowden wash a fire engine from the middle bay of the Jacksonville Fire Station. Mail Tribune file photo