GEARHART — Members of Gearhart’s firehouse committee presented findings Tuesday night and left the audience with life-and-death questions to ponder.
Goals of the committee are to replace the 59-year-old firehouse, built of unreinforced masonry and considered inadequate by modern standards, at a cost voters will approve.
Of nine locations studied, the committee narrowed the choices down to three: Gearhart Park; the current site at 670 Pacific Way; and Trail’s End, directly across from the fire station on the south side of Pacific Way.
Sites north and east of the city were considered but rejected from primary consideration.
“We’re really dealing with the best of a series of bad scenarios,” firehouse committee co-chairman Jay Speakman said. “We have no perfect answer, so we came up with what we thought as a group was a lot of bad choices. I hate to put it that way — but when you’re looking at the Big One, there’s no perfect location.”
A change of plan
A 2006 plan which included a firehouse building with a City Hall component was defeated by voters, City Administrator Chad Sweet said. “That was a large building with beautiful pictures, 17,000 square feet. People said, ‘That’s not needed around here. That’s too big.’”
This time around, committee members eliminated the City Hall component and reduced the size of the public safety building to 12,760 square feet.
Estimated costs for the building and construction run to nearly $5 million, Sweet said, with an additional $2.7 million in interest.
Potential property tax increases were estimated at $.78 per $1,000 of assessed value. For a $300,000 home, that would figure $234 a year. A $500,000 home would see taxes increase about $390 per year.
Each of the proposed sites is either owned by the city or would be available to the city at a minimal cost.
Gearhart Park offers compacted sand for advantageous foundation and a higher elevation, geologist Tom Horning said. “The park site is a good site,” he said. “High enough, and it’s near enough town to provide great services.”
Disadvantages include loss of parkland and effects on neighboring homes.
A public safety building would take up “about half the park,” Sweet said.
“There’s obviously an aesthetic aspect that would be negative,” Speakman said.
The Trail’s End location offers a central location and the city already owns some of the land.
But low elevation and concerns from neighbors who hope to preserve that property could be downsides.
The current firehouse site, while built “fairly stoutly,” according to Horning, is likely to flood even in a moderate tsunami.
“If you’re going to relocate here, you’ll have upwards of 20 feet of water,” Horning said. “You can’t do anything with the equipment because it will be inundated by the water. After the town is flooded there will be fires. They will break out, in a fireplace, natural gas line that sparks — and if you can’t use the local water to pump onto the fire, how will you put it out?”
Tuesday’s meeting ended without resolution, but the issue will now head to the City Council for discussion.
“The ultimate decision about this will be up to the council,” Speakman said. “We have a new mayor, Matt Brown, who’s very passionate about this, and we all feel very confident that hopefully we can convince the population that even though this is going to be a costly venture, the time has come to upgrade our capabilities here so we can maintain a first-grade fire brigade. The need is not going away.”
Fire Chief Bill Eddy made an appeal for Gearhart’s volunteer firefighters.
“Everybody talks about the equipment in here,” Eddy said. “The biggest asset we have are the firefighters in our department. The amount of money that each one of these firefighters is worth dwarfs what these apparatus are worth. Part of the station is for them. They’re the ones that have to come here to drill, to respond. To have a facility that’s current and up-to-date when it comes to training and all the other aspects of it — it’s needed.”