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City committees, commissions give approval to new Kenosha Fire Station No. 4 variances

station; kenosha fire department; kenosha

KENOSHA ⏤Several Kenosha committees and commissions, including Public Works, approved moving forward with a new Kenosha Fire Department Station No. 4, passing needed variances for the project Monday.

The new station, located at 4810 60th St., would replace the current building at that location, finished in 1964. 

According to Kenosha Fire Department Chief Christopher Bigley, the current station building will remain in place while crews construct the new building on the existing tennis courts on the property. 

After the completion of the new building, personnel would move over to it and, at that time, the old building would be demolished. 

The project will come at an estimated cost of $10 million. A previous plan to renovate or expand the existing structure had an estimated cost of about $7.5 million ⏤ however, without any room built in for further expansion. 

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Monday’s approvals 

On Monday the fire department and architects on the project Short Elliott Hendrickson Inc. (SEH), sought approval of variances from zoning ordinances for bits of the overall project. 

The most significant variance sought pertained to moving the building back 60 feet from 60th Street. Trevor Frank of SEH explained that the firm proposed the idea to increase visibility of emergency vehicles as they pull out of the station onto 60th Street. 

The project also entails the relocation of two water mains on the site. During construction of the new station, a small portion of the original 1964 building ⏤ the administration wing ⏤ will be removed. 

When it comes to signage and the overall look of the truck ramp on 60th Street, Frank repeated the same few words somewhere in his responses. 

“Similar to Station 1,” he said, speaking about the most recently constructed fire station at 2210 52nd St. in the city. 

1964 building past point of ‘Band-aids’

Bigley pointed out some of the maintenance issues that the department has had with the current Station No. 4. In fact, he said the current structure is being held together by “bubblegum and shoestrings.”

For example, the department had to tear up a new floor in the last 10 years for a new sewer connection to the street; however, they still have problems.

“In fact, we just recently had another section replaced, and shortly thereafter, it started to block up again,” Bigley said. 

However, the current building also has limitations on the comfort of staff. 

“It’s kind of wide open,” Bigley said. “It’s one large bathroom in the center with two dorms on either side. It’s not really set up for having men and women working side-by-side. So that’s one of the things we were looking at, too, when we were looking at the remodel; changing it up and matching that kind of YMCA-type design that we have at Station No. 1 ⏤ where the locker room is shared, but individual bathrooms are off of that.”

“You can just go on and on,” he added. “You can imagine, a 56-year-old-plus building, you’re looking at lighting issues, and everything just is expensive. It’s a long sprawling building.”

However, the new building ⏤ which will increase the station’s size from 15,000 square feet to 30,000 square feet (including a tower) ⏤ will offer more privacy to staff while not taking away from other needed space. 

Input from staff

When questioned by Dist. 17 Ald. David Bogdala, Bigley stated officials consulted staff of Kenosha Fire Station No. 1 in the process of designing the new Station No. 4. 

He explained that, as Station No. 4 will be based largely in aesthetics to No. 1, the department wanted to know what staff thought worked and what didn’t in the Station No. 1 design now that they’re living in it. 

No change in service when new station goes online

Bigley also made it clear the, due to the close proximity of the new building and the phased in approach of construction, there will be no interruptions or delays in service to citizens. 

This will hold true even on the day of the department’s move. 

“The current Station 4 will stay up. Our training chief and our EMS chief will stay with the building, as well as our battalion chief,” he said. “All of that will stay the same. 

“We will build the new building. And then once that’s complete, literally, people will move from this building, walk across the parking lot or across the way, and move into the new one. So there will be no change in services to the city.” 

Alderman supportive, critical it took so long

Bogdala, while supportive of the new building, criticized the amount of time it has taken to address the issue. 

“I’m going to be supporting this, because it is the right thing to do,” Bogdala said. “The sad part is, it’s the right thing to do in 2021, but it was the right thing to do in 2013 and and 2014 ⏤ when some of us who were here on council advocated for just that. 

“And instead, the prior administration decided to spend almost three-quarters-of-a-million dollars on an administration building that ⏤ as we just heard ⏤ is going to be the first thing to be torn down. 

“I don’t care how you run; that’s bad business. And the taxpayers are the ones that are, unfortunately on the hook for it.”

‘It’s not my money’

Though others criticize him for it, perceived mistakes like that are why Bogdala chooses to be so thorough in his questioning at meetings, he said. 

“The reason we ask the questions that we do, the reason we bring these things forward, the reason we dig into the details of these things is because we do represent the people, and we’re spending $10 million now, which we could have done differently before we wasted nearly a million dollars on an administration building. Which is just ridiculous. 

“At the time, it was 2,400 square feet, over $300 bucks per square foot, which at that time was the most expensive office space building in the city of Kenosha. Both public and private,” he added. “… The reason I continue to make sure that I’m asking all the right questions and ensuring we’re doing the right thing is because it’s not my money.”

No expanded KFD employment planned for now

Near the end of the discussion on the station, Dist. 16 Ald. Dominic Ruffalo asked Bigley if the department planned on hiring more staff to fill up the extra space in the new station. 

While Bigley stated there are no current plans to hire to fill the space, he’s hopeful concerning future growth.

Regardless, Ruffalo is happy with the project. 

“We are looking ahead to the future,” Ruffalo said, “and I think that’s the proper thing to do.”

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