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Sunnyside takes first step in new fire station process

The first step towards constructing a new station for the Sunnyside Fire Department has taken place with the city soliciting requests for proposals from architects.

The city is seeking architectural firms to provide a conceptual design for the new station. In the proposal, the city wants the firm to outline their approach and experience in the design and development of similar buildings, as well as make recommendations as to which one of the two different sites currently being considered for the new station should be used.

The two potential sites for the project are the existing fire station and an alternate location in the 100 block of South 13th Street. That property is currently owned by the Sunnyside Housing Authority but the agency has indicated it would be willing to sell the land to the city.

Once the firm is selected, it will begin the process of getting into the details of the project and will give the city an idea of what to expect in terms of costs. So far, the city has budgeted $20,000 for the selected firm to plan the construction of the new station on either site.

Although the cost of the new station, or even a remodel of the existing one, is unknown at this time, it is expected to be a multi-million dollar project.

Why the need for a new station?

Sunnyside Fire Chief Aaron Markham said the current one was built in 1964 and is quickly approaching its 50th birthday. Besides that, the department has literally outgrown the station.

The facility does not have an automatic sprinkler system. It only has a single-sex bathroom. The dorms are tight and cramped and offer no privacy. The fire station's main room, basically a living room for on duty personnel, is up front with no separation from the customer lobby. It also doubles as a classroom where training sessions are given.

"There is no separation," Markham said. "The living quarters are right in the public area."

There are pros and cons to keeping the station at its current site, as well as pros and cons for moving it to the South 13th Street area.

Markham said typically a good rule of thumb is to have 1.5 to two acres available for a fire station. A station should also not be on a congested thoroughfare in close proximity to a busy intersection. A preferable location is on a side street near the thoroughfare where the station's apparatus can get out and control the intersection traffic signals, if possible.

The new site meets the lot size requirements and is the closest vacant lot to the existing station. It is very close to major thoroughfares and allows for an area for off street training.

Some negativies are that it's not centrally located as the current station and is close to a railroad crossing. The property will also have to be purchased.

The current site is the most centrally located site in town. Leaving the fire station downtown would maintain a positive presence in the downtown core. As the current station sits, it meets the recommended distances from the intersections and recently a new roof was put on the building.

But the lot itself is too small. Additional property would need to be purchased and all but one of the lots have buildings on them. These would have to be torn down.

If the current site is chosen, a major renovation would need to take place which would require complete electrical and plumbing upgrades, as well as the installation of a fire sprinkler system.

A new fire station or even the renovation of the existing one is not set in stone. The Sunnyside City Council is treading lightly and wants to see actual numbers before any decision to go forward is made.

But when these numbers are known, Markham said it will make it easier for the city to apply for grants and low-interest loans. Another possibility includes voter approved bonds.

Markham said it could take the city at least two years to even get to that point. Despite that, he remains optimistic that a new station will be built eventually.

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