An evaluation of the mothballed fire station on the Tacoma Tideflats has concluded that it would cost too much to renovate the historic building to accommodate modern equipment and systems needed for an emergency on the working waterfront.
“Significant structural upgrades would be necessary to achieve minimum building standard requirements,” Tacoma Fire Department Chief James P. Duggan wrote in a memo to City Manager Elizabeth Pauli and the City Council’s Community Vitality and Safety Committee. “After a thorough review of the structural analysis and renovation concept, it was determined that the existing building did not meet the programmatic and operational needs … The renovated station would still not meet essential facility code requirements for fire stations.”
Reinforcing the building, Fire Station 5, to meet the minimum building standards would limit access to one of the doors used by emergency vehicles, for example. The station is also too small, so the department’s preferred option is to remove the building and build a new facility on the site, located at 3510 E. 11th St., at a cost of more than the $1.3 million available under the current budget. That means additional money would come during the budget talks in the fall for the 2019-2020 biennium.
The need for a fire station on the Tideflats has been a matter of debate ever since the station was closed during the budget cuts of the Great Recession a decade ago. The rise of more industrial operations on the Tideflats, specifically fossil fuel refineries and Puget Sound Energy’s plan to manufacture and store 8 million gallons of liquefied natural gas at a facility that is currently under construction, has made the need for increased emergency services on the working waterfront all more apparent. Helping fund the construction of a station was part of the interlocal agreement between the city and PSE to build the LNG plant, which is at the center of safety concerns about the growing number of potentially dangerous industrial operations on the Tideflats that also include the rising number of oil and fuel trains in the area.
The fire department currently responds to incidents on the waterfront with crews at the Fire Training Center elsewhere on the Tideflats and from Fire Station 6 during nighttime calls for service. The Tideflats once had three fire stations.
Station 5 is listed on the city’s register of historic places after it and 12 other fire department facilities around the city were designated as historic landmarks en masse in 1987.
Renovations of the station, or its demolition to make way for a new station, would require approval by the city’s Landmarks Commission, said Historic Preservation Officer Reuben McKnight. The decision on the application is not advisory to City Council.
Fire Station 5 is a one-story stucco station that was built in 1928 in the Mediterranean style with a cross-gabled roof and arched arcade. It has a hipped roof siren tower. The historical significance dates back to the establishment of the St. Paul and Tacoma Lumber Co. in 1888 to the time leading up to World War II, according to the station’s historical designation.
As late as last fall, the city had planned to renovate and upgrade Fire Station 5 sooner rather than later, in hopes of having it operational by 2019.