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Solon Firehouse unveiled

Firefighters embark on $4.3 million fundraising campaign
This conceptual depiction of the exterior of a proposed Solon Firehouse was on display at the Solon firefighters’ annual pancake breakfast. The Solon Firefighter Association is seeking to raise $4.3 million for the new structure, to be located on two lots behind Dairy Queen in Solon. (provided by Solon Tri-Township Fire Department)

SOLON– They know it’s a big building.
They know it’s a lot of money.
But here’s the analogy Solon firefighters made as they introduced a plan for a new $5 million firehouse.
The current fire station on Iowa Street was built in 1959, explained department member Greg Morris.
“Where we’re sitting right now was built by the firefighters in ‘58 and ’59,” Morris said. “My grandfather’s one of the guys who signed the personal note to guarantee payment. The only actual construction cost for the fire station to this community was from the bond issue in 1990.”
“$250,000,” said Chief Bob Siddell. “That’s not much.”
The $4.3 million the firefighters association is trying to raise is a big price tag, Morris said, but not if you spread it out over the lifetime of the proposed building.
“We do not want to put something up and say, ‘uh-oh, we need more,’” he stressed.
That’s why it’s big. That’s why two lots on Windflower Lane were purchased, he said. That’s why it’s set up for 24-hour service in the future.
If there’s one thing he wants people to understand, it’s that the firefighters have thought this through and are trying to do it right the first time.
The Solon Tri-Township Emergency Response Agency and the Solon Firefighter Association have 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 association hopes to raise the money for construction and then turn it over to the fire service agency, which would contract for building and own the finished product.
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.
It’s about 26,000 square feet total, including an unfinished basement, more than twice the size of the current station.
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.
Storage has been a big problem, one which can impact response times, according to another longtime firefighter, Tom Trump.
“As you look around, it’s pretty easy to see that we’ve got a lot of stuff jammed everywhere we can, so storage space is a premium,” he pointed out.
Crammed into the current station are the department’s boat and an all-terrain vehicle used for off-road rescue or grass fires.
“Neither one are in a position where we can just hook them up and go right away with them,” Trump said. “We’ve got to move things around to be able to get them hooked up and go and that adds to our response time, so that’ a concern to us.”
And because of the growth on Main Street, the location of the current station has also been a problem.
It’s wonderful to see all the business and all the people in town, Trump said, but it makes it more difficult for volunteer firefighters to respond to the station, and then to get the engines out of the station and on the road.
“The bump-out curbs– we’re running over those with the back tires of the trucks, and there’s more and more traffic,” he said.
And there are more and more calls for the 35 member.
“We’re actually at a record pace right now,” Siddell said.
The department reached 200 calls by June 1, he said, and that’s never been done.
“Usually, it’s mid-August,” Morris added.
The most calls in a year was 376.
Last year.
“With Solon growing, with the surrounding community growing, our call volume has steadily over the past few years gone up quite a bit,” Siddell said. “I don’t see that changing, unfortunately.”
And the call volume is increasing for the rural area as well as in the Solon city limits.
The Solon Tri-Township Emergency Response Agency, created jointly in 2016 by the City of Solon and Big Grove, Newport and Cedar townships, oversees the operation of the Solon Tri-Township Fire Department, while the Solon Firefighter Association is a separate, non-profit group run by the department members.
The department has the biggest response area in Johnson County, 112 square miles, from the Linn County line to Iowa City and as far east as the Cedar County line and from Sandy Beach to the Coralville Dam.
According to Siddell, the agency has been looking seriously at its space issues since its formation.
The initial discussion was about the possible expansion of the current facility, in use since 1959.
When three bays were added and the building reconfigured as a result of the 1990 bond issue, it was expected the improvements would last 20 to 25 years, Siddell said.
“Well, here we are in 2018, and we’re still here,” he said.

The agency and the firefighters, after multiple meetings, eventually decided the best decision was to look at a larger location in another part of town.
An architectural firm was hired and a committee was established to develop a long range plan to keep pace with the area’s growth for at least the next 25 years.
Siddell said the new firehouse could hopefully last four decades or more.
“We realize that it’s big,” Morris said. “If we do anything different we’re cheating everybody. Period.”
The new plans were unveiled at the firefighters’ annual pancake breakfast Sunday, May 27, and while there were questions about the dorm rooms and the bay for a future ladder truck, everyone so far has understood the need, he said.
The department doesn’t want to have to go back to the community in another 10 years, he explained.
“If we can think things through, and we all believe that we have, we’ll be set,” Morris said. “If this thing comes to fruition, we’ll be set for a while.”
So all they need to do is raise $4.3 million.
The townships and the City of Solon are all levying the maximum for fire service, and the fire agency itself has no bonding ability, leaving it to the firefighters to find enough donations to cover the bill.
The agency has agreed to go up to $1 million in debt for the project if fundraising comes close.
“We hope that doesn’t have to happen,” Siddell said. “But if we get to our goal and we’re short, they’re willing to commit up to $1 million.”
The total project is about $4.8 million, including the price of the land and a 10 percent contingency. The agency will look to sell the current building (the city has first right of refusal) and use that money toward construction costs.
Despite having just started with fundraising, Morris said, the firefighters have already been approached by a couple of local contractors willing to provide services at cost.
Now that the plan is out in front of the public, the firefighters will start looking for donations large and small, he said.
Although the association is looking for large donors to help with $100,000 giving levels, Morris said, every contribution of a dollar or more will be commemorated.
“If we have kids going out to collect cans and they give us 10 bucks, we’re going to take it and they’re going to be recognized,” he said.
The agency has set a date of Jan. 1, 2020, to review the success of the campaign, Siddell noted.
If it’s close, the townships might borrow the money needed; if they’re not close, they may have to go back to the drawing board, he said.
But the firefighters think the community will come through once again.
“We all feel optimistic that we can get this done,” said Siddell. “The community’s been very supportive of the fire department, they’ll be able to see the need, and I think they’re going to be very helpful, very generous to us.”
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