Snowmass fire district needs a new station
October 1, 2014
T he Snowmass-Wildcat Fire Protection District needs a new home.
The department has been discussing for some time how to deal with the issues in its 44-year-old building, which include rusty gas lines, mold, failing foundations and an inadequate heating system.
If some of these issues sound dangerous, it's because they are. The district has responded immediately to life-safety issues in ways such as replacing the gas line and mitigating the mold problem. But Fire Chief Scott Thompson has concerns about continuing to spend money on repairs to a building that's not meeting the district's needs.
This past summer, the district conducted a study to explore what the most cost-effective solution would be. If it would save money to remodel the existing station, that's what the board wanted to do, Thompson said, but Charles Cunniffe Architects found that constructing a station at a new location might actually be the most cost-effective route.
The reason is how extensive the remodel would have to be — the only portion of the building the architects deemed worth keeping is the original three-bay, concrete structure, which is already overflowing with vehicles and equipment.
In addition, setting up shop somewhere temporarily while a new building is constructed onsite or staying in the current station while parts of it are renovated could significantly impact the department's services.
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"We have to continue to provide 100 percent services," Thompson said. "We can't not have our ambulances and our fire trucks here. We can't put them down at the airport. We can't take them out of the Village. The most cost-effective thing is to find another piece of property."
The department also needs more space at the station, which would require it to build underground parking and would eliminate the grassy space and community garden located on its property. The additional space would meet some administrative and housing needs, as well as help the district bring the station up to code, said Fire Marshal John Mele. Existing fire codes have requirements about where things should be stored; for example, tanks of breathing air and bunker gear shouldn't be stored near vehicles that could contaminate them, as Snowmass currently has them.
The district would also benefit from having more open space to test equipment and conduct training exercises. The district is still meeting all its requirements as far as that goes, and the community shouldn't be concerned about the building's status impacting services, Thompson said.
"The community doesn't need to be scared that we're not going to show up," he said. "We're doing everything we can to keep great services."
"I don't believe any of this is going to happen tomorrow," Mele said. "I think we have to be clear with our community that the fire department needs to find better facilities so that we can serve that growing community … 40 more years down the road."
Thompson expects that the decision to build a new facility will be made by the district's voters. It's also likely to need a bond to finance it, he said.
The chief hopes Snowmass residents can help the fire department find a suitable property and eventually contribute to the planning process when it's time to start that. One site under consideration is the town's entryway, but a variety of other uses and facilities are also being proposed for that parcel. The fire station could share space with a visitors' center or museum, though and become "more of an amenity to the town than just a fire station," Thompson said.
"The other side of this is, we want something the community can be proud of," Thompson said. "I want to see that."
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