Complication casts doubt on proposed location for new Athens fire station

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ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) — The city of Athens may be looking for another location to build a new fire station because of a complication with the proposed site.

A city of Athens Fire Truck dries on Washington Road.
[Mark Clavin | WOUB]
The city has spent months planning to build the new station on a vacant lot along Stimson Avenue next to the Hocking River.

The land is owned by Ohio University. The city and the university have been negotiating a 40-year lease for the property. But the state Department of Administrative Services, which must approve the lease, has rejected the proposal because state law restricts such leases to 25 years.

Athens Mayor Steve Patterson said Thursday he is not comfortable with a shorter lease given that the city plans to spend $9 million on the new station, which will have a life expectancy of about 50 years.

The City Council on Monday approved issuing bonds to fund the station, which will be paid back with a local income tax increase approved by Athens voters in May.

Patterson said no decision has been made yet on what to do now that the planned lease of the Stimson site has been rejected.

“I feel like I was blindsided by all this,” he said.

An Ohio University spokesperson said the university’s real estate team was trying to pursue a lease under a provision in state law that allows for 40-year leases of university property for certain kinds of development. But the state said this section does not apply to public entities.

Patterson said one possible option is to see if the university will sell the property to the city. He said he has not yet approached the university about this. A university spokesperson said any plans to sell property would first need approval from the university’s board of trustees.

If the city cannot buy the site, it will have to find another location. City officials liked the Simpson location because it’s just a few hundred feet from the highway interchange, giving firefighters easy access to all parts of the city.

Patterson said the city owns a parcel sandwiched between the Athens library and the river, not far from the Stimson site. But one complication is there is no road to this property and building one might present some challenges, he said.

Another option is to tear down the station on Columbus Road and rebuild on that site. But the city may end up facing some of the same problems plaguing the existing station. The property is steeply sloped, which required the station to be cantilevered on concrete beams. This support structure is now falling apart.

Also, the city wants to build a bigger and sturdier station to accommodate the much larger and heavier modern fire trucks. This also could present problems at the existing location.

Another issue with rebuilding at the current location is the city wants to improve response times, Patterson said. He characterized rebuilding there as Option F and said he hopes a better alternative will materialize.

“We’re turning over every rock that we can find,” he said.