Renovations could be coming to decades-old Mendota Heights fire house


submitted graphic • The renovated Mendota Heights fire station will include a 14,000 square foot expansion, including an expanded apparatus bay and training area.

Hannah Burlingame/Review • The Mendota Heights fire station at 2121 Dodd Road is in need of upgrades to bring it in line with modern standards that will allow for the volunteer fire department to better serve the community. On July 2, the Mendota Heights City Council gave preliminary approval of up to $7 million of funding for such upgrades.

The Mendota Heights City Council took the first steps July 2 of lining up funding for a remodel of the city’s fire station.

This included the preliminary approval of issuing bonds that would pay for the upgrade and the adoption of a capital improvements plan targeted at the fire station.

Mark McNeill, city administrator, said in 2015, the city began looking at what needed to be done to update the current station at 2121 Dodd Road. 

It was determined a number of things would need to be done to bring the station, built in 1984, up to today’s standards in order for it to better serve the community. 

 

The need for updates

Fire Chief Dave Dreelan said the initial focus of the 2015 study was to make an accurate assessment of the station’s physical condition and identify the operational issues. 

Those issues include significant overcrowding in the apparatus bay, as well as administrative space and storage areas. Significant air quality issues, due to diesel exhaust and the process for decontaminating equipment, were also identified. 

The study also showed a lack of appropriate training facilities, an inability to support current ambulance operations and outdate building systems. Dreelan added there are significant design and operational issues related to firefighter parking and emergency response.

“The facility is virtually void of any technology or data systems that you would expect to see in any modern building or office today,” Dreelan said. 

Dreelan said the city didn’t go into this process looking for a new fire station — it went into it to identify issues and see where that led.

Five renovation plans were presented to council, ranging from a basic upgrade to a complete teardown and rebuild.

Ultimately, the station building committee and the council decided the design that best fit was submitted by CNH Architects, which would address the major deficiencies.

The estimated $4.5 million renovation project addresses operational issues by adding onto the existing station while remodeling and upgrading other parts of it.

This plan allows the department to remain fully operational during construction, and the expansion will increase the size of the facility by 14,000 square feet.

A garage will be built for Health East ambulances, which currently park their trucks outside in the rear of the station.

In fixing previous problems for the fire department, Dreelan said space for Health East was taken away for equipment decontamination space. This means a little of the current station will be remodeled for the paramedic’s day room. 

The next logical step was to add the garage so ambulances could be kept in a secure, heated and climate-controlled space.  

 

Multi-use space

Council member Liz Petschel said the city has never had a formal emergency operation center. She said a city even the size of Mendota Heights’ requires one.

“We’ve had a police officer shot in the line of duty. We’ve had a murder in the Plaza, and we’ve had an F1 tornado,” she said. “All at which point of time we wished we would have had an emergency operation center.”

Dreelan said CNH has emphasized the ability to make every space multifunctional — if there was a significant event in the city, the training room at the station would become an emergency operation center and council members and others could be in the conference room nearby. 

The July 2 meeting was a public hearing, and resident Bernard Friel said the Mendota Heights Community Resource Association feels the project is a necessary improvement to the facility. 

Friel said over the 60 years he has lived in the city, he has learned it has a professional volunteer fire department.

“They need all of the tools we can provide them with, and they need the tools they’re seeking here that I expect the city will go forward and provide,” Friel said. 

 

Paying for the station

McNeill said that for projects such as this, the city borrows money by putting forth a bond sale. 

The option recommended for the council was a reverse referendum — if the city gets a petition signed by 5 percent of the voters from the last general election saying they don’t want to finance the station, it would go to a referendum, or the city would look for alternative funding.

The bond issuance for the project will be up to $7 million, which allows for flexibility in case work bids come in higher than expected.

The owner of an average-valued home of $356,000 would see an annual property tax increase of around $91 if the city goes with a 15-year bond payment plan.

A petition would need 401 signatures to trigger a referendum, and a 30-day petition period began July 3.

An informational open house at the fire station on the project will be held Monday, July 9, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

 

– Hannah Burlingame can be reached at 651-748-7824 or hburlingame@lillienws.com

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