Possibly closed through mid-2022 or longer: Flood-damaged downtown Bloomington fire station

A temporary location at 4th Street and College Avenue could be serving as Bloomington’s downtown fire station for another year and a half.

That’s based on a “right of access” agreement for the property, which was approved by the Bloomington’s redevelopment commission (RDC), at its regular meeting on Monday. The  fire department’s right of access to the RDC’s property runs through the end of 2022.

Station 1 was damaged in the flooding that hit areas of downtown on the night of June 18.

The heavy rains that night filled the fire station’s basement with eight feet of water, drowning the building’s telecommunications center. Station 1 also served as the department’s administrative headquarters.

The temporary site—in the former Bunger & Robertson building at College Square—is four blocks east west of Station 1.

It has been housing the department’s administrative functions since the flood hit. On Monday, Bloomington fire chief Jason Moore told The B Square that the department also has operational crews stationed there from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

When the firetrucks are not at the temporary site, they are distributed to other stations in a way to optimize fire protection coverage from those four sites.

Providing fire protection around the clock from the temporary downtown location will be made possible by the RDC’s approval at its Monday meeting. The right of access includes permission to establish a temporary fire truck bay in the parking lot, which will allow the trucks to be secured overnight.

In connection with the temporary fire engine bay, Bloomington’s board of public safety will be asked at its Tuesday meeting to approve a $101,850 base contract with Mahaffey USA, to erect the structure.

The quote for the job calls for the 20x50x16-foot structure to be set up around now (July 19–21) and stay up for a year.

As far as the accommodations in the building itself—for the administrative operation and bunking for firefighters—Moore said only slight modifications had to be made. “It had a kitchenette. We just paid to have an oven installed,” Moore said. He added, “We’re getting a second shower, and a bathroom, and a washer and dryer put in.”

Moore called the configuration of space inside the building for adaptation as a fire house “almost perfect.”

The flood damage to Station 1 means it could join three other city fire stations that are already recognized as needing to be rebuilt, as a result of an engineering study done last year.

The need to replace three of the city’s five fire stations was discussed during Moore’s presentation to the city council in fall 2020 on his department’s 2021 budget.

The ballpark cost of a new or replacement station, as reflected in the 2021 long range capital spending plan, is around $6 million. Two new stations, in addition to station replacements, are included in that long-range plan.

For any of the possibly four stations that would be replaced, it is not assumed they would be rebuilt at the same location. Moore said that the existing locations might not be the optimal spots, in light of changes in population distribution.

Another factor to consider, when it comes to locating new or replacement stations, is the potential addition of more territory to the city through annexation. The city’s current annexation proposal is supposed to get a city council vote sometime in September, and would add more than 9,000 acres to the city.

Under a recently amended state statute, most but not all of the annexation area would still receive primary fire protection from the Monroe Fire Protection District, not Bloomington’s fire department.

Bloomington is using a consultant to help with decision making on the location of new and replacement fire station sites. In April, the board of public works approved a $27,750 contract with Martin Riley, Inc , to consult on building design and site surveys for at least one new fire station—as part of the effort to follow the recommendation of the engineering study released last year.

Moore said on Monday that in connection with Martin Riley’s work, the department is now in a “due diligence” phase for Station 3, at 900 N. Woodlawn.

Sometime soon, Moore said, he hopes to have a decision on whether the potential new location for Station 3 is an appropriate site. After that, the department will move forward with the engineering design phase.

With a clearer idea of how much damage was caused to Station 1 by the June flood, it’s now possible to start weighing repair-versus-rebuild options for that station.

Moore described a range of infrastructure in the basement that sustained damage. The basement housed the main controls for all the electrical systems. That included a transformer from Duke Energy, the generator transfer panels, all the electrical panels for the station, the solar inverter controls, the HVAC systems.

The communications systems were also in the basement, Moore said. That includes the fiber network, the station alerting system, the WiFi switch equipment, and the electronic door controls.

As Moore described it, “The nerve center of the building is in our basement.”

Moore pegged the price for replacing the equipment at $400,000, and maybe another $100,000 or more to reconfigure the installation—so that the electrical infrastructure would not be susceptible to flood damage again.

Moore said the damaged equipment had been installed above the historical high water mark from past basement flooding. But the flooding on June 18–19 went from floor to ceiling, he said. Moore added, “There was no scenario where we planned for the entire basement to be full of water.”

The former Bunger & Robertson building is a possible temporary home for a fire station, because it was purchased by Bloomington’s RDC in 2019 for about $5 million. The purchase was made in connection with the planned expansion of Monroe County’s convention center.

The convention center expansion project has been on hold since the pandemic, but appeared to have stalled for reasons unrelated to the health emergency.