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Firehouse campaign trying to push past COVID

$500k contribution moves project closer 2021 construction possible

SOLON– When things were looking bleak for fundraising, a Solon family came through.
The Dennis and Jana Munson family of rural Solon donated $500,000 to the Solon Firehouse campaign.
“Obviously, our hats are off to the Munson family,” said firefighter and Firehouse organizer and Greg Morris. “Dennis and his family are just committed to what we provide and do for our community. They all view it as an important entity of our community.”
Morris was on the treadmill when his phone rang with a number he didn’t recognize.
It was a call from a financial advisor wanting to know information about the campaign to build a new station on Solon’s south side. The two talked for a bit about the project, and the advisor promised to get back to him with news about a contribution.
Morris noted the conversation, but nothing seemingly became of it until another call came, this one from Dennis Munson, informing Morris the Munson family, including sons Jake and Eric, was prepared to give $500,000 to the new building.
The donation will be made in two installments to the firefighter association. One has already been received, Morris said, and the other is expected sometime in December.
According to Morris, that brings the total of cash and commitments to over $1.2 million.
“I’m proud of that number,” he said.
It’s been over two years since the Solon Tri-Township Emergency Response Agency and the Solon Firefighter Association proposed a new firehouse at the intersection of Windflower Lane and Prairie Rose Lane, just east of Highway 1 on Solon’s south side.
The new structure will feature eight double-depth bays, with one dedicated for future ambulance use, and will resolve the space issues the department has been experiencing.
The new firehouse will be outfitted with 40 turnout gear lockers with room for more and will feature a 60-seat training room, a small meeting room, offices, and dedicated space for self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) and other equipment.
It’s about 26,000 square feet total, more than twice the size of the current station, and includes an unfinished basement.
Morris has since been heading up the fundraising to make the $5 million facility a reality and said it’s still fun.
But being positive has been difficult in 2020.
“It’s just tough, because there were two or three real good fundraisers planned for this spring and we just couldn’t do them,” Morris said.
The annual firefighter pancake breakfast was canceled, as was a fun run, and although they almost had a comedy night lined up, it fell through as well.
“We’re still moving forward,” he promised.
Solon’s firefighters are still upbeat because they know the new facility is really needed for the community and they’ll get the job done soon, he noted.
So far, he said, the campaign has received financial support from about 750 of the 3,300 addresses in our fire district.
It’s understandable for things to slow down with a global pandemic and an inland hurricane, Morris observed.
“But it’s also important for us as a firefighter association to keep moving forward,” he said.
Until organizers are able to visit with potential major donors face to face, Morris will keep trying to come up with innovative ways to spread the word and move the campaign from person to person.
His latest idea is a $5 Challenge.
“If you haven’t contributed yet, you don’t know what to do, send five bucks in,” he said.
But the key is to ask a friend, neighbor or relative to send five bucks in as well, he added, rolling the fundraiser on to other people, and keeping it moving through the community.
In August, firefighters started collecting redeemable cans and bottles, he stated.
On successive Friday nights from 5:30-7 p.m. at the fire station, and during the community clean-up day Aug. 22 at the Solon Recreation and Nature Area, residents were able to drop off their accumulated empties in support of the new station.
“People reached out to us as a way for them to donate back to us, so we agreed to do it,” Morris explained.
Fire agency and building committee representatives have also met with the facility’s architect to “make sure there are no stones unturned as far as the design,” he said.
The current plans include a full basement, but that might change to facilitate a quicker start to construction, he said.
Over two dozen different individuals or companies involved in construction have pledged to help through some form of contribution, he said, which is expected to shave as much as $1 million off the total cost, he said.
“We looked at that pretty hard,” he added.
Construction costs have been reduced through design changes, including the shifting of the entire building’s footprint to cut 20 feet of concrete off the driveway and approach, he said.
Many of the named areas have been fully funded, he noted, although there are 18 gear lockers left at $2,000 each and the family area is within $5,000 of its $50,000 funding level.
Added in the redesign was a locker room with showers, he noted.
The campaign is still receiving between $2-4,000 a week in the mail, Morris said, and the campaign’s Venmo account (Solon Firehouse) has been very active.
“Venmo has not been bad to us,” he observed.
Some of it is nickels and dimes, some of it dollars, he said, but what’s important is people still recognize it, they care about it, and it’s important to people in the community.
He and Fire Chief Bob Siddell made a formal presentation to the Johnson County Board of Supervisors, were warmly received and invited back in November to discuss the next budget cycle, Morris reported.
“We keep trying and keep doing things in a positive manner to get the thing done,” he commented.
The department itself has continued to receive “tons of calls” for service, he said. “Morning, noon and night seven days a week. We’re very, very buy right now.”

For more information and updates:
www.solonfirehouse.com
Contact Greg Morris at 319-330-1775.
Mail contribution to:
Solon Firefighter Association
131 North Iowa St
Solon, IA 52333

Other ways to donate:
• Through AmazonSmile. While shopping on Amazon, you can designate an organization, and Amazon will donate 0.5 percent of eligible purchases to the Solon Firefighter’s Association.
• Donate through Venmo: https://venmo.com/SolonFirehouse.
• Auto-withdrawal is available through Bridge Community Bank or Solon State Bank.
• Donate empty cans and bottles. Contact the firefighters at www.solonfirehouse.com or on the department’s Facebook page.