Janesville shows "no frills" fire station plans

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Neil Johnson
November 20, 2014

JANESVILLE—David Farrell has gone from flustered to friendly in his stance toward the fire station plan that means the death of the Milton Avenue house he'd lived in 13 years.

Farrell and his wife, Rebecca, moved across town this fall into a rented ranch-style home, leaving their 1,000-square-foot bungalow at 339 Milton Ave. to the wrecking ball.

Under a city plan that is reaching critical mass, Farrell's home and 11 others along the wedge of land between Milton and Prospect avenues will be torn down to make way for the planned new Central Fire Station.

Farrell said he's no longer upset about losing his house. In fact, at an open house Wednesday night at the existing Milton Avenue firehouse, he acted as more of a cheerleader for the project.

During a question and answer session in the station's kitchen-lounge, Farrell pushed for a robust new station.

Farrell, who according to city records was paid $118,000 for his home on Milton Avenue that was appraised at $82,000, said Wednesday the city should build the biggest and best fire station it can.

He said he was disappointed an ad hoc fire committee had made cuts to the building's size to get the project down to $9 million from its previous $10 million price tag.

“Remember, twelve families got displaced,” Farrell said. “Don't go cheap on this. Go big. Make this worth it.”

On Wednesday, residents viewed architectural drawings and floor plans for the project. Madison architect Five Bugles Design plans to finalize plans for the city to bid out by late January, officials say, with construction pending in spring.

City officials, including Department of Public Works Director Paul Woodard and Fire Chief Jim Jensen, gave visitors an update on the project.

The plans show modifications, which most significantly include a trim to the size of the station from 36,500 square feet to 30,000. The station also now has seven bays rather than the eight originally planned.

Jensen told visitors he thinks the firehouse is functional and meets the city's needs now, but he hopes an extra bay can be listed as an alternative if bids come in lower than the project limit.

“I see both sides of it," he said. "The fire station plan as it is now is functional. But is it adequately sized for the future? That's questionable. It would have been better to have a bigger footprint—a little more room to grow in the future.” 

The project has made headlines for its location, cost and the fact it was vetted in secrecy during closed meetings of the city council. It has also been challenged by two direct legislation petitions from resident Billy McCoy that seek to freeze the project and call for a referendum on all city projects of more than $2 million.

The city council has ignored McCoy's petitions. McCoy this week said he is trying to raise at least $7,500 by a Dec. 9 deadline to file a lawsuit he believes would freeze the project.

While some residents on Wednesday had questions, many more had suggestions—and they weren't about cutting costs.

Resident Randy Abraham, who lives on the east side near the Janesville Mall, said he was “shocked” when he saw the ad hoc committee had chopped an apparatus bay from the project plan.

“I thought one deal with a new fire station was the need for more space to get vehicles in and out,” he said. “How much did it save to knock out a bay from the fire station? $200,000? How much would it cost to add a bay to a finished building if you need to later on? More than $200,000, I bet.” 

The fire station's exterior design has had features from earlier plans cut for cost, including windows above the bays that would have given the garage more natural light and dressed up the side of the building that faces Milton Avenue.

Jensen said the building design is still "good looking," but admitted it's "no frills."

"We weren't about to sacrifice function over frills," he said.

One resident said, “Can we get a little more Frank Lloyd Wright in this thing?”

Woodard said the city has images that show options to dress up the station's exterior, although some design elements would have to wait pending initial project bids.

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