City to relocate fire station up the road

Visalia Fire Department’s Station 56 will move from its current home at Cal Fire’s Tulare Unit headquarters on Lovers Lane to a new station to be built just a few blocks away

VISALIA – After 15 years of leasing space from the state, the Visalia Fire Department is ready to get its own place for its eastern station.

The city of Visalia purchased property for a new fire station on May 3 for $294,000 on Lovers Lane just south of Tulare Avenue. The new fire station will be numbered 56, currently the number of the station it co-locates with Cal Fire. Visalia Fire Chief Dan Griswold said the city has been purchasing space from Cal Fire at its Tulare Unit headquarters, 1968 S. Lovers Lane, since 2006. He said the city should see some cost savings when they end their lease with Cal Fire at a cost of $2,742.90 per month, including utilities and maintenance.

In 2018, Cal Fire notified the city it would need to find a new home eventually, so the city council authorized $4 million for the purchase, design and construction of the station later that year. Building the new Station 56 just up the road from the Cal Fire headquarters allows the Visalia Fire Department to maintain its four-minute response time to most of eastern Visalia.

“They have been very welcoming but the situation was never meant to be permanent,” Griswold said.

The older bays at the Cal Fire station don’t exactly meet the space requirements of the Visalia Fire Department either. Griswold said the engine bay is not long enough to house the city’s fire truck, the living quarters are cramped and the bedrooms are part of another engine bay.

“The new station will provide updated living spaces conducive of a more modern fire station workplace,” Griswold said.

Also at the May 3 meeting, the city council increased its contract with RRM Design Group by $113,700 to redesign Station 56 for the new site. The city had already paid RRM $324,800 to design the station which is based on the footprint and floorplan of Station 53, located near Walnut Avenue and Akers Street. The city was originally looking at building the station on the southwest corner of Tulare Avenue and Vista Street but said “several issues” had developed in negotiations with the landowner, and there were infrastructure challenges and timing issues with construction of an adjacent housing project, according to the staff report.

The new site is already appropriately zoned for a fire station, has access to existing utilities and has developed curbs and gutters.

“The current proposed site alternative was identified as a more suitable location, with a quicker development timeline and significantly reduced site costs,” the staff report stated.

The city has tentatively schedule to go out to bid on the $6 million station in November with construction starting in January 2022 and the station opening in June 2022.

Station 56 isn’t the only station in the works for Visalia. Last fall, the city began talks about constructing a new station to replace Station 51, the original fire station located at 309 S. Johnson St. in downtown. While the city has not yet decided if it will remodel the existing station or build a new one, the council did approve $400,000 in Measure N funding last summer for design of a new station. If the city decides to replace its strategic downtown location, it will again use the basics from Station 53 to design the new station.

“I want to make sure the public knows we aren’t building more fire stations,” Griswold said. “These are replacement stations.”

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