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The city of Ketchum launched an educational campaign about the proposed fire station earlier this year.

For Ketchum residents interested in learning more about the proposed $11.5 million fire station bond on the ballot this fall, City Hall will open its doors the week before the election for a final open house.

The self-guided exhibit of various posters and diagrams will run from 12-1 p.m. and 5-6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 29, with city officials on standby to answer questions.

Posters will cover the floor plans, breakdown of estimated costs, timeline and tax impact of the 14,500-square-foot fire station planned for a city-owned site just north of the Wood River Community YMCA, along Saddle Road.

If a two-thirds majority of voters approves the bond on Nov. 5, construction on the facility would begin in May 2020 and could wrap up the following summer.

Those in favor of the bond say the proposed site location is more than ideal, with access to main city arteries such as state Highway 75 and Warm Springs Road. Others in favor say that the current station has put the health of Ketchum’s first responders in jeopardy, and there’s no choice but to build from scratch.

“We are concerned about the safety of our community and our firefighters,” Gary Hoffman said on behalf of his organization, Community Safety First.

For almost two decades, Ketchum’s East Avenue fire station has missed the mark on safety assessments. More than a decade ago, it was found unable to withstand damage from a major natural disaster, and efforts to mitigate asbestos contamination and exhaust fumes have been underway since 2001.

Now, city officials say the number of code and safety violations is simply too high to continue with renovation.

In an interview last week, retired Ketchum fire captain Tom McLean said he found the station’s deterioration troublesome.

“There are structural deficits, cracks, abandoned staircases—the building is bad,” McLean said. “The insulation has dropped down, and diesel fuel has condensed in dark spots on the wall.”

Fire captain and paramedic Tory Frank agreed.

“All of our gear is stored in the same room as the apparatus bay, and you can see it in the trays we have in the landing—if you put your hand in those, you’re going to pull out soot. There is the concern of being exposed to carcinogens from the exhaust,” she said.

But when Ketchum’s $11.5 million fire station bond advanced through the City Council on Sept. 3—securing a spot on the Nov. 5 ballot—Ketchum’s first responders learned the station’s long-running issues may come to an end.

Tax impact

If passed, the $11.5 million bond will effect a $20.52 increase in property taxes per $100,000 value, which boils down to $147.13 annually for a property of $717,000, Ketchum’s average home value.

For a property of $1 million, that figure would increase to $205.20.

Compared to when the bond was first introduced, Mayor Neil Bradshaw said more residents seem to be OK with the tax hike—a change he attributed to ongoing educational efforts in the form of mailers and open houses this month.

“I think it’s well-recognized and understood that there is a need for a new station,” he said in a Tuesday interview.

According to blueprints from Cole Architects, the facility would provide adequate sleeping quarters and energy-efficient lighting, insulation and plumbing designs. It would also include four large drive-through apparatus bays to accommodate the wider turns of ladder trucks—an upgrade from the current 6,000-square-foot fire station, at which drive-through bays are too narrow to allow easy truck and ambulance access.

“At one point, the roof leaked and collapsed on top of ambulances,” McLean said. “Now, most new ambulance drivers have to take off their mirrors because the bays are too narrow.”

A timeline

For at least a decade, city officials and consultants have cited unsafe living and working conditions in Ketchum’s fire station. In 2005, Mayor Randy Hall implored the city to address its faulty infrastructure; in 2006 and 2007, the McGrath Consulting Group found the building aging poorly, and asbestos-removal crews were hired in 2010.

Ironically, according to the McGrath report, a bedroom in the firefighter sleeping quarters is not up to fire code.

“Significant renovation to the existing building is not recommended, but rather replacement is needed,” it stated.

In May 2016, former Mayor Nina Jonas placed a $23 million bond measure before voters to fund a new fire station, police station and city hall. That overwhelmingly failed, however, with 75 percent of voters checking “no.”

If the same happens this time around, the Ketchum Fire Department will still need a new location and may need to move to a temporary facility until financing is available.

Both City Hall and the Police Department have made plans to relocate out of the East Avenue property by the summer of 2021.

For more information on the bond, visit ketchumidaho.org/firebond.

Email the writer: ejones@mtexpress.com

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