Visalia could begin building newest fire station this fall

New station will mean Visalia Fire Department will no longer share a facility with CalFire on Lovers Lane

VISALIA – During calls to defund the police this spring, one woman asked the council to assure her money from the city’s sales tax measure would not be used to build a police headquarters resembling a “paramilitary fortress.”

The woman was referring to the city’s March 2019 decision to prioritize a public safety administration building over a new city hall and noted that a station was listed among the things funded in the 2020-21 budget for Measure N, the subject of community concerns about prioritizing police over programs for youth. The council explained the station listed in the budget was in fact a fire station and that there were no plans in the next two years to use Measure N funding to build a police station.

In fact, the city may have two new fire stations before they begin talks on a new police headquarters.

At its June 15 meeting, the Visalia City Council approved the Measure N budget allocating $400,000 for design of a new Station 51, the original fire station located at 309 S. Johnson St. in downtown. Nick Mascia, community development director for the city, said Station 51’s location is strategic for response time in covering the city and the city council has yet to decide if it will remodel its oldest station or simply build anew in the downtown area. And while the two-year budget for Measure N included $4 million next year for the construction of Station 51, another station will likely be built first.

Mascia said the city is further along in its plans to build a new Station 56 and the project has a higher level of urgency. The Visalia Fire Department’s Station 56 is currently co-located with the Cal-Fire Tulare Unit station at 1968 S. Lovers Lane. In 2018, Cal Fire notified the city it will need to find a new home as soon as possible. A new Station 56 was funded in the previous Measure N budget approved in 2018, which included $4 million for the purchase of property, design and construction of a new station on the city’s east side.

Finance director Rene Nagel said it is common for new facility projects to be funded in one fiscal year but the money is actually spent several years later.

Plans for both stations, if the city decides to build a new downtown station, will be based on the blueprints for Station 53, which opened at 5025 W Walnut Ave. in April 2016, and was already used as the basis for the city’s newest station, Station 55, located at 6921 W. Ferguson Ave. The only difference, Mascia said, is that Station 56 will hire a construction management firm to ensure the city realizes the cost savings of templating its fire stations as the cost of construction continues to rise in California. Station 53 began construction prior to 2015 when the charter cities’ exemption from prevailing wage laws ended. Charter cities must now pay prevailing wage on all public projects over $1,000, which can add up to 30% to the cost of a project.

In July, Mascia told the council that plans for Station 56 were nearly complete and that it would be advantageous for a the city to hire a construction manager to review the plans prior to finalizing them. He said this could help with value engineering to reduce cost both before and during construction, free up time from the city’s engineering staff to move forward on other projects, and minimize the potential for expensive change orders and costly delays.

Station 56 is tentatively scheduled to go out to bid this fall. The bidding and award process is projected to take approximately 12 weeks. Staff anticipated construction beginning in early 2021 and completed in spring 2022.

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