Athens City Council will propose a tax levy to replace decaying fire station< < Back to
ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) — The Athens fire chief drew chuckles when he opened his presentation at Monday night’s City Council meeting with this line:
“The fire station is falling down and I need a new one. Thank you.”
But the laughter soon turned to gasps as Chief Robert Rymer played a video clip showing the severity of the structural deterioration at the fire station on Columbus Road.
In the clip, one of the concrete support beams that supports the elevated main floor shifts and bits of concrete crumble to the ground as a fire truck rolls out of the station. The beam has already sunk about an inch where it joins the wall and the steel support flange holding it in place is rusting away.
To build a new fire station, the council plans to introduce an ordinance to place a 0.1 percent income tax levy on the May ballot. This would amount to $50 a year in additional tax for someone making $50,000 a year.
A new station built to last for 50 or 60 years will cost between $6 million and $7 million. The ideal location is on Stimson Avenue between the roundabout and the bridge, Rymer said.
The Columbus Road station was built in 1965. The main floor is cantilevered out over the sloping ground and supported by rows of precast concrete beams resting on stilts.
The fire trucks now housed at the station are much bigger and heavier than they were decades ago.
In 2005, it was discovered that the weight of these trucks was causing the building to tilt backward. Additional support walls were built in the parking area under the main floor to stop the movement.
Four years later, the building was shifting sideways. Steel beams were installed to restrict this motion.
More steel beams are now being installed to shore up the concrete beams, several of which are shifting every time trucks are moved in and out of the station.
Inside the station, the concrete floor is lined with several large cracks where the support beams are sagging. One portion of the floor has sunk below the level of the drain, resulting in standing water that creates a slipping hazard.
Since 2005, the city has spent more than $500,000 in repairs to keep the building operational, but these are just patches, Rymer said.
An engineering firm hired to assess the station earlier this year concluded in a report that “the building is at the end of its service life.” The firm said the latest repairs should keep the station operable long enough to build a new one.
“At the end of the day, we’re talking about a 1965 structure that has totally lived its useful life,” Mayor Steve Patterson said.
In addition to the structural issues, Rymer listed other concerns with the station. Because of the shifting, many of the windows no longer open. The living quarters are not adequately isolated from the garage, he said, so when the trucks are backing in, diesel fumes seep into the living area. As a result, the station does not meet National Fire Protection Association standards for cancer prevention.
“It’s an incredibly dangerous job,” Council Member Ben Ziff said after Rymer’s presentation. “It’s already got a huge number of cancer risks involved with it, and it absolutely breaks my heart that we have our firefighters living in a condition that brings those risks from the job back into their ‘house’ while they’re working.”
The city has identified four possible locations for a new fire station. The Stimson location is the best option because it provides quick and easy access to the interchange for highways 50, 33 and 32, city Service Safety Director Andy Stone said.
Rymer said moving to that location would improve response times, which would help with the department’s insurance ratings.
The council plans to take up the ordinance for the proposed levy in December. This would be followed by several months of outreach, including getting public input on the design of a new station. Several council members said they would like the new station to include space the public could use.
If the levy is placed on the May ballot and is approved, Stone said, the goal would be to start construction in 2023.