- Associated Press - Sunday, May 18, 2014

SEWARD, Alaska (AP) - The first weekend of May was a milestone for the Bear Creek Volunteer Fire Department as they began moving their offices from the 42-year-old fire station into a new $3.4 million facility built last year. Finishing touches and a final checkout by Kenai Peninsula Borough inspectors cleared the Bear Creek Multi-Use Facility for occupancy. A week later, desks, computers and phones as well as fire department equipment and vehicles are giving the new building a lived-in look.

Training Captain Jim Wiles says that the moving will continue as decades worth of gear still needs to be transferred between buildings. He said that help is on the way as a temporary hire will provide some full-time muscle to help speed things along. And, while minor glitches are being addressed, and phones and networking aren’t yet fully functional, department firefighters had already made a handful of fire and medical calls out of their new facility.

The building’s first floor is divided up into three zones with one for firefighting equipment and personnel, one for offices and a community room, and the third an empty and unfinished section available for future tenants or expansion. Sockets with dangling wires will soon house motion activated internet capable cameras, both inside and outside the building, that will provide around-the-clock security.

The independent access is part of the project design that allows public use of the common area and will give the area its first community meeting center. Bear Creek volunteers spent part of their year’s budget on furnishing the community room that doubles as a training center with desks and a computerized whiteboard.

Wiles said that, even with the expanded floor space of the new facility, storage space in the building is lacking. The costs of finishing the structure, including second floor accommodations for firefighters, may be addressed in part by a $100,000 legislative appropriation, However, BCVFD Fire Chief Mark Beals expects to take several years to get the entire facility finished. He says that decreased revenue for the fire service area combined with tightening borough and state budgets spells delays in putting the final touches on the facility.

Additionally, Beals argues that until funding for a replacement is in sight, it doesn’t make sense to dispense with a 1989 storage garage that is slated for removal. The 1,500 square foot building is the subject of a minor controversy and debate between BCVFD volunteers, the borough and contractor Marsh Creek. According to the KPB contract, Marsh Creek was given the responsibility of disposing of the structure. Beals and other Bear Creek residents and firefighters want the storage building withdrawn from the current project contract and left standing.

Originally conceived of in 2005, Beals says that the overall cost of the new facility is in excess of $7 million. He notes that over $2 million of that sum was absorbed by overhead for planning, compliance and changes in siting. That kind of expenditure for a facility that is valued at $3.4 on the borough tax rolls gives Beals pause when considering the near-term likelihood of finding nearly $500,000 to build what should be a $150,000 storage shed.

According to KPB project manager Kevin Lyon keeping the smaller structure on site presents a couple of problems. The one regarding how to modify the grade in the area surrounding the shed, which is due to be buried in at least a foot or two of gravel, is his first concern. He doesn’t know what the value of the building, if any, is to March Creek. Lyon says that’s in KPB Mayor Navarre’s court and a May 14 on-site meeting with the mayor will probably settle both issues.

Lyon notes that another change of plan came into play when new regulations nixed plans to burn the old fire station down. The planned demolition by conflagration is no longer easily permitted under state and federal regulations, so the borough is putting that additional project component out to bid. Beals says that the time and effort to obtain the necessary permits is prohibitive especially when combined with probable complaints from the public, both during permitting as well as the burning.

Wiles said that, storage buildings and demolition aside, the next actual progress toward making the fire station fully functional will come in mid-June when a couple of 750 gallon-per-minute pumps for the department’s 5,000 gallon water cistern are installed. That will power Bear Creek’s first operational fire hydrant giving the volunteers the ability to rapidly refill the department’s tankers. Another cost, yet to be accounted for, is green paint to refinish a couple vehicles. And that fire hydrant.

Copyright © 2017 The Washington Times, LLC.

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