The Woodward News

November 18, 2012

New central fire station could happen in 2 years

Rowynn Ricks
Woodward News

Woodward, Okla. — Woodward could have a new central fire station by 2014.

Woodward City Commissioners made the first step toward establishing the new station by voting during their Nov. 5 meeting to proceed with the purchase of the "old Golden Corral property" at 2400 Williams Ave. for $403,000.

City Manager Alan Riffel said the next step will be to "establish and request proposals and interest from specific fire station architects, those who have specific experience in designing fire stations."

Estimating the new station to be a "$3.5 million to $4 million facility," Riffel said he hopes the project will draw interest and proposals from several firms.

He noted that "there are quite a few architects who have built stations in the state."

After requesting proposals, Riffel said, "Then we'll establish a building committee, one that is stake-holder based, which will include firefighters and other community members and interested parties."

This building committee will help review the proposals and be involved in the process to select the architecture firm that will design the new station.

"We want the building committee to be involved from the beginning," Riffel said.

Once the architect has been selected, the building committee will provide input throughout the design process in order to create the most efficient design.



AN AMBITIOUS TIMELINE

While the building committee is working to select an architect, the city manager said crews will start demolition of the former restaurant.

The demolition is just the start of the construction timeline.

"I see the old building coming down over the winter and then we'll start the process of design and development around January-February," Riffel said.  "The design process will probably take around 60 to 90 days and then engineering will take another 60 days."

"By the end of summer we could start breaking ground," he said.

However, he admitted that timeline could be "a little eager."

"Maybe that's ambitious, but we see this as a high priority and we want to move forward as soon as possible," Riffel said.

The city manager noted that his estimate of groundbreaking by late summer 2013 is based on "expecting positive feedback from the community during the process, because we will be presenting our design plans to the community."

If the community's reaction leads to some redesign, then the groundbreaking could be moved back a bit to the fall, he said.



FUNDING STILL TO BE DETERMINED

Another big factor that will impact the construction timeline will be funding. Especially as Riffel said the city hasn't yet determined exactly how the new station will be funded.

During a city commission budget workshop in May, Riffel had suggested that the city's current sales tax base wasn't sufficient to cover the construction of a new fire station.  The implication was that the city might need to seek a sales tax increase in order to afford the new station and other important capital improvement projects.

However, when The News asked Riffel if a sales tax increase was still being considered after the recent decision to move forward on the new station, he said the city was "going to assess multiple factors" when evaluating funding options.

"We know the economy is not going to stay as strong as it is now forever.  But right now it is strong and that reduces the need for a comprehensive sales tax increase," Riffel said, adding "The last thing we want to do is raise taxes on the community; so if we can avoid that, we will.

To help with that, he said the city could soon be in a position to take on new debt.

"We will have some debt service completed in Fiscal Year 2013-2014," he said. "In the first quarter of 2014 we will retire the debt on the hospital and that will allow us some latitude on new debt."

But before accepting new debt, Riffel said the city will have to examine revenue projections to determine "how we can go about serving the debt."

"We'll have to see how our revenues continue this year and what the projections are for the next 15 years," he said.

However, those projections won't come until the last quarter of the current fiscal year.

"As we go into the budgeting season, we'll be able to do that longer-term forecasting for capital projects," Riffel said.

But because the funding must be established before construction on the new station can begin, the city manager noted that might push the groundbreaking back even more.

However, he is confident that construction will begin by the end of calendar year 2013.



LOOK TO MOVE IN SOON

The city manager said he is expecting the construction to be completed within a year.

"I certainly hope we will be in the new station during calendar year 2014, I think that is achievable," he said.

Riffel used the new conference center's construction as a comparison, noting that facility was also given a 1-year timeframe for completion.

"The conference center was a larger construction and we were able to meet the timeframe on that project, so I'm confident we can do this in that time as well," he said.

However, he admitted that just as with the design and funding process, there are "variables" when it comes to keeping the construction on track as well.

"We want quality contractors.  But with so many busy contractors sometimes we don't get as many interested as we would like," Riffel said.  "But I'm confident with the scale of this project, it will generate interest."



LOOKING FORWARD TO MORE SPACE

For Fire Chief Steve Day the fire department can't move in soon enough as the new station has been something the city has needed for many years.

However, he said he understands that good things come to those that wait.

"Sometimes it takes patience to get what you need," he said.

And one of the things the fire department really needs, which the new station should provide, is more space.

"Right now we've outgrown what we've got," Day said.

He said this can be seen by the 2 fire vehicles sitting outside in the south driveway of the current station, as well as the department's hazmat unit which currently has to be kept outside at the Public Works parking lot on the far east side of town.

With the new station, the fire chief said all those vehicles should be able to be brought back inside the station, where they can be protected from the elements.

"Also we'll be able to bring our new 95-foot ladder truck to a central location so that it can be used to respond to all calls," he said.

Currently the ladder truck is housed at Station No. 2, north of the railroad tracks on 22nd St.

While excited about getting his current fleet indoors and in better locations, Day said that shouldn't be the only concerns when it comes to the size of the new station.

"I want to encourage them to build a big enough station to not only house the equipment we've got now, but also to be able to accommodate future growth," he said.

Riffel said he anticipates the new station will be about 13,000 to 15,000 square feet.

The current central fire station is "roughly 10,000 square feet," he said.

While an additional 3,000 to 5,000 square feet might not sound like much of an expansion, the city manager said that "properly configured, that 13,000 to 15,000 square feet will provide much better use than the current facility."

"The design and configuration of space will play a lot into ... the most likely footprint we're going to have," he said.

Day said he is "looking forward to working with the committee on those design plans."

"It's great that they have the firefighters involved in deciding the direction this needs to go," he said.  "It's our one shot so we want to make sure it's right."



A NEW LEVEL OF CONTROL

In addition to more space that is better designed, both Day and Riffel said another exciting element of the new station is the location.

"It is the best suited of any that we've considered over the years," Riffel said.

"It's going to get us off this intersection (9th and Oklahoma), which is the busiest intersection in Northwest Oklahoma," Day said.

By doing so, it should help improve the fire department's response times, since the fire trucks won't have to battle with traffic just to exit the station.

The fact that the new site is situated at a 3-way intersection that is controlled by stoplights also helps.

"With the lights there hopefully we can set them to where we can control them to get out in an emergency situation," Day said.  "We certainly don't have that luxury here."