The Kodiak City Council will be getting a roadmap for selecting its new fire station design services, according to Mayor Pat Branson.
Branson provided a brief update during a recent council meeting, noting that she had requested the road map from City Manager Mike Tvenge and Deputy City Manager Josie Bahnke.
“We need to find out where we are now, what funds we have, what’s been expended, bullet points on potential funding opportunities, advocacy that might need to be done from the state, feds and other entities,” Branson said. “That way, we have a process going forward with community involvement and hopefully a draft timeline. We can have the facts and figures at the beginning with bullet points with where we are going.”
Branson said that a previous fire station discussion during a July 20 work session on design services caused some confusion among council members. Having a road map, she said, would allow everyone to be on the same page.
The City Council officially approved the site selection for the future fire station at its July 8 meeting. The site will be located at 1240 Mill Bay Road, a lot the city initially purchased for additional parking related to Baranof Park events.
The city began to focus on replacing its current fire station in 2019. It is beyond its recommended life cycle and sits right at the limit of the tsunami inundation zone. In addition to its age, the fire station sustained damage during the Jan. 23, 2018, earthquake, which registered 7.9 on the Richter scale.
ECI Architects Alaska conducted the site selection study for the new fire station over the span of 18 months and offered four options before the city decided on the Mill Bay Road location.
ECI estimated the cost to build the fire station at more than $23 million, based on initial community needs and parameters laid out by city and fire department staff. About $8 million has been requested by Congressman Don Young, and the city will court other federal and state resources to help fill funding gaps.
However, the council held off on going with ECI for drafting up 35% designs until it could have further discussions.
A 35% design concept plays a key part in finding state and federal funding. Once those designs are ready, the project would be considered close to “shovel ready.”
The July 20 council meeting provided some robust discussion among council members, with some advocating for ECI to continue through the 35% designs. Council Member John Whiddon had advocated the city solicit requests for qualifications from other firms, noting that a different firm could offer a different perspective and cut down on the overall cost.
“We know that we did a lot of research in having the right site for the fire hall, and I think we all feel good about that,” Branson said. “ECI has done a good job in leading us to that conclusion, so we just need to know where we are going.”
Whiddon, on Thursday, noted the frustration that city staff has endured through the project.
“For the past few years, we’ve been contemplating a site for the location. ... I know there’s been some frustration among staff and probably contractors on why this process has taken so long,” Whiddon said.
Whiddon noted that most of the site options were at best “untenable,” but he was pleased that Friends of Baranof supported the final decision while offering solutions to alleviate the park’s parking shortage.
“I think this is a win-win site, and it’s been our focus for the last two years. But we haven’t focused at all, or minimally, on design,” Whiddon said.
He stressed the importance of getting it right.
“This is a legacy project, not just for the council. ... This is probably the biggest project any of us will be involved in during our time on the council,” Whiddon said. “In terms of a single structure, everybody will drive by it and see it will be new. ... We have to get it right.”
Whiddon added that the correct process will ensure a project “that will come in on budget and on time.”
Council Member Terry Haines said Branson’s requested road map “is a great way of looking at it.” Like Whiddon, he agreed the process to select a site was a struggle.
“We’re finally to the fun part, and we can see at some point in the near future where we achieve 35 percent design,” Haines said. “Once you’ve got a site selected and 35 percent design, you’re as shovel ready as you can be and be ready to get into any kind of funds anyone wants to throw our way.”
He added as a legacy project, the fire station project should be completed in a way that would best serve the community and the firefighters who will work there.
“I think it’s safe to say nobody here wants to add to the tax burden of our citizens,” Haines said. “I certainly hope the public will get involved as they were with the high school and library, because it will be a fun and worthy thing to make yourself educated on.”