Bayport fire officials will hit the road Tuesday for an open house at Oak Park Heights City Hall to discuss the need for — and cost of — a new fire hall.
It’s a well-worn topic that has been under discussion for a decade or more among residents of Bayport, Baytown Township, Oak Park Heights and West Lakeland Township, all of whom use the Bayport Fire Department services.
Bayport has asked the other municipalities to help pay for the $5.7 million facility based on how much they use the services. The cities and townships will have 15 years to pay for their share of the cost.
On average, Oak Park Heights has been the heaviest user, accounting for 52 percent of the calls over the past five years. As a result, it is being asked to pay slightly more than $91,000 per year to help finance the new fire hall.
West Lakeland accounts for about 20 percent of the usage, followed by Bayport (18 percent) and Baytown (10 percent). Those cities and townships are being asked to pay annual sums of $34,511, $30,992 and $16,692, respectively. Those fees would be in addition to what each municipality pays for their annual service contracts, said Baytown city administrator Logan Martin.
Bayport and West Lakeland have already agreed to pay their share of the project’s cost. Bayport will contribute $2 million from cash reserves. The rest will come from $1.4 million in public and private grants.
Bayport also pays $500,000 a year for trucks, equipment and maintenance, said fire Chief Mark Swenson.
The Oak Park Heights City Council was expected to vote on the construction fee request at its December meeting, but tabled the vote in favor of holding an open house from 6-7 p.m. Tuesday to answer residents’ questions and address concerns.
Baytown’s board of supervisors intends to vote on the issue at its Monday meeting, said board chair Kent Grandlienard.
Grandlienard expects no opposition from the 1,600 residents of the rural township, which he said has 600 homes on lots of 2.5 to 10 acres. Baytown has no employees and contracts out for snowplowing as well.
“It’s a valuable service and we’re lucky to have Bayport doing that,” Grandlienard said of the fire service.
“For what Bayport is putting in, it’s not unrealistic to ask the other communities to put money in,” said Swenson, who also serves on the Oak Park Heights City Council. “The message that I’ve got from the other communities is they don’t want to own a station, but they want to be covered.”
There are plenty of reasons for a new facility, Swenson and Martin said.
The existing fire hall measures 6,600 square feet, with trucks parked bumper-to-bumper and nine fire officials sharing one desk in a 150-square-foot office. The site is problematic as well — in a residential neighborhood across the street from Andersen Elementary School.
The fire department fields about 1,200 calls per year. If a call comes in when students are entering or leaving the school, it’s not only hazardous to them, but difficult for the fire trucks to exit the building and for the volunteer firefighters to park their vehicles, Swenson said.
“This (new) site is really perfect, if for no other reason than we got the land for free,” Martin said.
The new 17,400-square-foot fire hall would be built at the intersection of 5th Avenue North and Stagecoach Trail, formerly part of the grounds of Stillwater prison, which is situated in Bayport. The state Legislature voted earlier this year to donate the 4.2-acre parcel to Bayport because its fire department serves that prison and another in Oak Park Heights.
Dan Kyllo, chairman of the West Lakeland Township board of supervisors, agreed on the need for the new fire hall, and said its location — within about five miles of most homes in West Lakeland — would benefit his town.
“It’s almost a straight shot down Stagecoach Trail, whereas before, they would have to weasel themselves out of downtown Bayport,” Kyllo said of the firefighters. “Response times will be quicker and better.”
As a result, those homeowners living close by could see reductions in their insurance premiums, Kyllo said.
Oak Park Heights’ decision to delay its vote on the construction fee request will not hamper construction, Martin said. Bayport plans to seek construction bids this winter in hopes of having the fire hall completed by December 2015.
If the Oak Park Heights’ City Council rejected the fee request, it could cost more in the long run than the $1.36 million it has been asked to pay over 15 years.
“It’s a million-dollar question,” Martin said. “We would have to reconsider and it would be a significant change to the project. We’d have to go back to all the councils and have a candid conversation of how to pull this off.”
Bayport officials have always said their city cannot afford to build the fire hall on its own, Martin said.
“We need all our partners,” he said. “If they back away, it would be a serious problem.”
Nancy Crotti is a Twin Cities free lance writer.