Public parking, public
safety needs intersect
Almont boards mull request that
old hall be kept open for pumper
February 27, 2008
ALMONT — While the township's newly-built fire hall continues to sit empty, a movement is afoot to keep the old hall open—even after the new building becomes operational.
Sparked by Fire Chief Paul Wilcox and some of the department's veteran firefighters, the effort is based in the belief that the village's downtown district would be best served by keeping the old hall open.
It's not an entirely new suggestion. Before construction of the new hall at Tubspring and Howland roads began, Wilcox had lobbied for the fire department's continued presence in the downtown area.
At the time, Wilcox expressed the opinion that many of the department's volunteers lived in the downtown area and could be more quickly dispatched to fire or emergency scenes.
"This is a concern I expressed long before we bought the property," said Wilcox, who has served as a firefighter for 43 years, and the past 22 as fire chief.
"My position hasn't changed," he said. "I'm concerned about the safety of the residents of the village."
Village Manager Gerald Oakes said that at the wishes of the village council, he is drafting a resolution requesting the township board continue maintaining the old fire hall after the new hall opens -—but on a one-year trial basis.
"Because of the proximity to the central business district, they would like to keep one pumper at the old hall," said Oakes. "After a year, we could analyze how it's working out."
Oakes estimated the yearly cost of keeping the old hall operational at $5,000, based on current heating and electric bills. Wilcox believes the cost would be less.
"Right now it costs us $4,700 a year for heat and to keep the lights on," said Wilcox. "If the old hall's not being used on a regular basis, it will be less than that."
If the old hall remains operational, its continued use will disappoint those who want the building torn down to make way for parking on the west side of Van Dyke.
"Our board had been looking at that as an opportunity to help solve our parking needs," said DDA Director Nancy Boxey. "Tearing down the old (Detroit) Edison building and fire hall have been part of our long-term plan."
Boxey speculated that if only one firefighting vehicle needs to be kept at the downtown site, at least a portion of the hall could be razed to create extra parking space.
"If they're only looking at keeping one engine there, possibly a compromise could be reached to serve both needs," said Boxey.
A similar scenario is being advanced by village councilman Rick Tobias, who sees a benefit in keeping a fire truck in or near the central business district.
"Maybe an alternative would be to put up a smaller building to store a single pumper," suggested Tobias. "That way we could still address the parking issue and public safety. That might be an affordable option."
Tobias said a storage building could be constructed downtown or at another location, possibly at Almont Community Park.
Whatever the result of the debate, Wilcox is pleased the matter is getting some serious consideration.
"We've finally got the lines of communication open again," he said. "We don't need to be hasty and regret it later. Ultimately, it's the township board who will decide the way it's going to be."
Township Supervisor Gary Groesbeck is less than enthused about discussion aimed at keeping the old fire hall open.
"I'm not happy that Mr. Wilcox has made this 11th-hour request to keep the hall open," said Groesbeck, "or that he went to the village with this before coming to the township.
"I'm not an advocate of the idea," he continued. "When the ballot was proposed and passed, it was to build a new hall—not to build a second hall. We wouldn't have built such a big hall had we intended to retain the old hall. I don't think it's necessary from a budgeting or safety aspect."
Groesbeck added that he and his fellow township board members have consistently considered the best interests of all residents when they decided on the location for the new hall.
"The hall is only a mile from downtown," he said. "That location was selected because it's right in the center of the township."
Groesbeck cited that recent statistics released by Lapeer EMS showed that the ambulance service responded to 201 incidents in Almont Township last year, versus 81 in the Village of Almont. Groesbeck said such statistics provide ample evidence that the township's population is now widely dispersed.
"I've not received a single public comment or complaint about the (new fire hall) location," he said.
Nevertheless, Groesbeck said he will carefully weigh the concerns of Wilcox and others who wish to keep the old hall open.
"I'm open-minded enough that I will consider the idea, but we need to be careful about what the intent is," he said.