Voters will be asked to approve nearly $10 million to build a modern downtown fire station and upgrade the city’s aging Fire Training Center to better prepare firefighters for hazardous material spills, gas well leaks and fires, and other emergencies.
The Nov. 4 election includes four propositions totaling $236 million, the largest bond package in the city’s history. Arlington voters will also be asked to approve about $160 million for street improvements, $60 million for parks and recreation projects, and about $6 million for libraries. Early voting begins Monday and runs through Oct. 31.
Downtown fire station
Fire officials are seeking $5.3 million to replace the 60-year-old station. Fire Station No. 1, 401 W. Main St., has undergone five major remodels since it opened in 1954. But the building has major maintenance problems, is not energy-efficient and has other problems ranging from the difficulty to park fire vehicles to the lack of privacy in firefighters’ dorm rooms, fire officials said.
“Station 1 is our oldest facility,” Fire Chief Don Crowson said. “We need a fire station downtown that matchs today’s community needs.”
Besides needing replacements for the roof and floors, the station has regular problems with plumbing and air conditioning and heating, Assistant Fire Chief Jim Self said.
Fire Station No. 1 houses a battalion chief, one of the city’s two natural gas well response teams, arson investigators and the explosive ordnance disposal team. Proposed changes include dedicating space for a department museum and building drive-through garage bays because the drivers now have to back the large fire vehicles into the garage, which blocks part of Main Street daily, Self said.
District 6 Councilman Robert Shepard said he supports using bond funds to replace the station.
“To me, it’s more of an investment issue,” Shepard said. “It doesn’t make any sense to continue to spend money to maintain and repair an aged building that is not going to get any better.”
The city also wants the new station, which serves many downtown neighborhoods and businesses as well as the University of Texas at Arlington, to have a more welcoming entrance and lobby for the community, Self said.
“We wanted to really update the architecture to weave it into the downtown vision. Most fire departments, they want their central station to be the marquee station,” Self said. “We want to make it look cool and inviting and help revitalize downtown.”
Fire training center
In west Arlington, the department is seeking about $4.5 million to help expand the Fire Training Center and to enhance its technology. The training center, at 5501 Ron McAndrews Drive off West Green Oaks Boulevard, has maintenance problems including a leaky roof, and its classrooms no longer meet the department’s needs for space and technology, Self said.
“It’s easily one of our most used facilities. It’s got a lot of wear and tear,” Crowson said. “We need to upgrade the facility to meet future departmental needs.”
Crowson said creating larger classroom spaces with enhanced technology could allow the Fire Department to generate revenue by offering training classes to firefighters from surrounding cities. That money could be reinvested in the training center, he said.
One maintenance issue is that the smoke and fire simulators don’t always work in the training center’s five-story burn lab, where the city’s 300 firefighters participate in regular drills such as searching for victims in a smoke-filled high-rise. Besides making those repairs, the department wants to replace worn- out training props and add new ones, like a simulated chlorine-filled tanker car and more realistic natural gas well site equipment, so firefighters using the center’s drill field can be better prepared to handle realistic public safety threats.
The drill field and training center are used by all 17 fire stations as well as nearby fire departments.
“Anytime we can improve any of our public safety training facilities to give our guys as much of a real-world situation as we can, the better off we all are going to be,” Shepard said. “The more prepared they are, the better they will be to respond to any type of emergency.”