Decision! Council opts to keep fire station at current location, build new police station behind Perkins

This is a real surprise. In today’s Nfld news: Council votes to split police, fire

The Northfield City Council, as expected, settled on a new Safety Center site Tuesday. But instead of choosing a parcel to house a joint facility, it voted 5-1, with Mayor Mary Rossing abstaining, to move ahead with the purchase of a 4.2-acre site on Riverview Drive behind Perkins restaurant for a police station.

The new building would also house administrative and training facilities for the Police and Fire departments while fire trucks would continue to be located at the current building at Hwy. 3 and Fifth Street. That facility would likely be upgraded for continued use.

Video segment – 18. Motion – Policy Direction on the new Public Safety Center

I need time and conversation to think more about this but my immediate reaction is that I like it.


  1. Well props to them for making a decision. Not sure how I feel, but I guess it’s nice that they’ll be keeping the Ames Park station in use. It’s an important community fixture and a very central location (if slightly unfortunate in proximity to the river).

    I’m a bit surprised Rhonda Pownell, as a northside resident, would be so insistent on keeping the fire trucks out of the center of town.

    March 7, 2012
  2. kiffi summa said:

    Maybe we could now go even a little closer to ‘sanity’,and build a new police station on the land the Gleason family so generously offered to the city… 9 acres, free… and don’t bring up soil mitigation, because if you don’t build a basement, and with that amount of land you can certainly design a building with no basement… then the soil mitigation becomes less important . Also with nine acres you can choose the the area where the least mitigation is needed.

    Nine acres… free… access to County road 1 or access to Hwy 3 at a signaled intersection, Honeylocust.

    Nine acres … free …

    March 7, 2012
  3. Jane Moline said:

    I am glad they are wise enought to use the existing building. I don’t understand why the old Ryt-way building–offered to the city for free–would not be perfect for a police station. I am sure they really need to spend money on an expensive new site with an expensive new building that will make the taxpayers proud (and impovershed.)

    And Kiffi–the Gleason site did not require the soil to be hauled away for any one except Northfield CIty Staff–the city council is not actually privy to the facts–just the story the staff wants them to hear. The city staff edits information to get the city council to make the decision that staff has decided upon.

    March 7, 2012
  4. kiffi summa said:

    Jane : I agree with your comment about the Gleason site, but that rases two questions not answered: 1. Why does the city staff have a ‘dog in the fight’? Why is their goal not just to provide all info asked for without any agenda? and 2. When there are competing statements, what is the best way to get at the truth?
    The Council is loath to ‘challenge’ staff even though the Council is the employer; witness the exchange last night between the administrator and a councilor…

    And you’re also right about the Ryt-way building; I had forgotten about that freebie until Victor reminded me of it yesterday… Again, why is that not a better solution than buying another property?

    March 7, 2012
  5. john george said:

    Sean- If I understand the discussion properly, Rhonda’s objection was not to where the fire equipment would be located. The objection was that the split site idea, equipment one place and training in another, had not been vetted. It seems interesting that councilor Imms was opposed to the idea last week and all of a sudden supporting of it last night. If there was so much understanding and support of the proposal within the council, then where is there record of the public discussion? As councilor Pownell pointed out with the written motion proposed, who knew about this beforehand? Was this decision made from another one of those serial meetings that have been alleged in the past? I may not have the full picture to understand, so I can only respond to what has been made public.

    March 7, 2012
  6. john george said:

    Sean- I’ve been rethinking my reaction to the council decision, and I think I am wrong in suspecting any collusion beforehand. The more I think about this motion, the more it strikes me as one made out of exasperation. This has been three years now spent on the fire department issue? I think the whole town is getting exasperated with the length of time this is taking. This doesn’t make it a good decision, IMO, but it is probably a better explanation for the decision.

    March 7, 2012
  7. Phil Poyner said:

    Did I hear correctly that the city once had building inspectors come in and look at the current safety center, and that they expressed concerns that it wouldn’t be capable of handling the weight of modern fire trucks (which are quite a bit heavier than they were when the building was first built)? Or is that just one of those stories that has legs, but no actual truth to it?! Would a refurbishment of the current safety building involve strengthening it with that weight in mind? I’m no contractor, but that sounds like it would be incredibly expensive. And if the Ryt-Way building isn’t a viable solution, does anyone know why? After all, there may be some really good reasons why you wouldn’t want to use that building…but off the top of my head, I can’t imagine what those would be!

    I guess I’m kind of worried that yes, we have a solution but no, it doesn’t really solve the identified problems. I would expect that at some point city staff must have written some sort of one-page proposal that outlined the problems and described how this solution addressed them. If not, my only comment would be “Really??” :-O

    March 8, 2012
  8. kiffi summa said:

    In reply to your last paragraph, Phil, Councilor Nakasian stated, at the Council meeting, that she had prepared the proposal she presented after much thought consistent with her long held position about “centrality” for the fire hall, but that she had delivered it to Administrator Madigan at 6: 30, just a half hour before the meeting.
    So … not a staff proposal/solution.

    I think it did take everyone by some level of surprise.

    I do not understand why the Councilor did not suggest using either of the offered ‘gift’ properties for the Police facility, given that she made a case for that facility’s site to not necessarily have the same need for centrality.

    March 8, 2012
  9. Griff Wigley said:

    Phil, I think the Minority Report recommended keeping the Police Station where it is in part because it would cost far less to rehab the Safety Center as a police station than as a fire station… and that a fire facility somewhere else could be built inexpensively.

    The Council’s new solution solves the fire facility ‘centrality’ problem but it’s still going to be pricey, from what I can tell.

    My preference is still: rehab the current Safety Center into a police station and put up a new fire station on the MNDOT property at Woodley & Hwy 3, which is only a couple blocks from the ‘centrality’ of the current location. All that could be done for half the cost of the current plan and therefore much more palatable for taxpayers.

    March 8, 2012
  10. David Koenig said:

    On the surface of it, this looks to be an excellent outcome and decision!

    Now, I challenge city leaders to fully incorporate the costs of maintaining BOTH facilities in the bond issue. Then, we will not have the same problem occur in the future.

    The cost of building a new facility is not the construction cost, but the construction cost PLUS the present value of all future maintenance.

    The council should be very open with the community that 1) they know the present value of future maintenance costs, 2) that they are going to disclose these to the voting public and 3) they are going to be fiscally responsible and create a fund that covers these costs using reasonable actuarial assumptions.

    March 8, 2012
  11. Phil Poyner said:

    Wow. Was Councilor Nakasian’s proposal a completely new proposal? If so, did they take any time to actually read it? You know, a quick recess or something? It just seems bizarre to me that the council would vote on a proposal that hadn’t been “staffed” against other proposals. This discussion has been going on for years, and then all of a sudden it’s “Here, new proposal…quick, let’s vote on it…there, we’re done!” I must be missing something…

    March 8, 2012
  12. kiffi summa said:

    You aren’t missing anything in the process of this resolution, Phil.

    I think the immediate acceptance response by five of the councilors (Pownell voting no, and Rossing abstaining) shows how uncomfortable some councilors have been with the process thus far, although they have been fully involved in it.

    March 8, 2012
  13. Griff Wigley said:

    I’m starting to get more uncomfortable with this decision because of A) how significant of a change it is; B) the speed with which the decision was made; C) the lack of written rationale currently available to support it; and D) the lack of opportunity for citizens to learn more about it and weigh in on it.

    All of this can be remedied, of course, but so far, it’s not clear what the next steps are. I’m hoping Councilor Betsey Buckheit will soon blog about it.

    March 9, 2012
  14. Griff Wigley said:

    Thanks for keeping the element of future maintenance costs in focus, David. Do you know if the City has any of these types of dedicated maintenance funds currently?

    March 9, 2012
  15. @David
    St. Olaf does something similar to this for new building donations (especially for those, like the Tostrud athletic center, that were not solicited by the college): donors are required to create a maintenance endowment for the facility. It makes sense for a private college, but I’m not sure if a city has the luxury of collecting many, many times over the dollar amount of the annual maintenance cost. It would certainly take a lot of money to create an endowment that could sustain the maintenance through a sustained draw.

    This was a new proposal, but I don’t think it’s radically different. It wasn’t as if Suzie Nakasian just came forward and said, “screw it, let’s go build a combined center in the northwest business park!” This was a careful hybrid of existing pitches — including the minority proposal. Ordinarily, I’d like to see a more careful public process, but this public process has tried so hard to include every option and account for every perspective. Dragging it out more would not have led to a better solution at this point; it would have led to more slow-downs.

    March 9, 2012
  16. Phil Poyner said:

    Sean, my beef is that I’m not seeing how this solves our problems in the least painful way possible. It seemed to me that one of the motivating factors in this whole process was concern over the ability of the current building to support the equipment (trucks) now housed there. I also believe a report has detailed that refurbishing that building to bring it up to standards would be cost-inefficient when compared to building new. Taking those two things into account I suppose I expected the adopted proposal to be similar to what Griff stated above, and that any proposal that kept the Fire Department in the safety center would have come off the table. The proposal Griff detailed seemed to address all stated concerns as best as could be expected.

    March 9, 2012
  17. I think it probably is cost-inefficient compared to a combined facility, which is why they were previously so insistent on that approach. However, it is clear that any site large enough for a combined facility had serious concerns from the fire department. You’ll see in the video, all three firefighters who come up to talk object to having to use S Hwy 3. (Now I see a rather cruel irony in the fact that a road city staff once championed the expansion of — even with a lowered speed limit and additional traffic lights — is deemed so unsafe and freeway-like that firefighters don’t think cars will be capable of reacting to a blazing horn and lights on a fire truck. But I’ll resist the urge to go into that further.)

    They needed to keep it central and on the lower-speed stretch of Highway 3. I liked the Woodley-Mn/DOT site, but that would have involved additional commitments from the city — to find, buy, and possibly help build on, a new truck station for the DOT. See the exchanges in the packet for this meeting for details on that.

    So, no: this isn’t he the most cost-effective solution. But it does address the firefighters’ concern. As to the weight issues — that’s troubling, but I put faith enough in engineering competence that that will be accounted for in any renovations to that building. Certainly with no active offices underneath, it seems like there would be additional options for adding new support structure.

    March 9, 2012
  18. Ray Cox said:

    I’m pleased that there are plans in the works to use the existing building. Remember folks, the ‘greenest’ building is the one you never build. Phil’s concern about the weight of the trucks is a non issue. It wasn’t a building inspector that sent a truck away—it was city staff taking the name plate weights off the truck bodies and stating the floor isn’t safe. I doubt very much that the floor of the facility is not adequate to handle the weight of the fire apparatus vehicles. It was designed for fire trucks.

    As far as a combined facility, I’ve never seen any substantive information on the ‘savings’ that would benefit Northfield with such a facility. I served on the 2009 Task Force. We were taken to 5 area communities to see their fire halls. All were separate facilities; no one had a combined police/fire. The needs are so different that other than possibly sharing a couple of toilet rooms and a training area, I don’t think there is any benefit.

    It is also interesting to note that our volunteer fire department received an ISO rating of 4….0 is the best rating. There are a few 3’s in the state, but there are also a lot of 5’s,including Faribault with fire budget of about $1 million more than Northfield.

    And as far as the costs for refurbishing the existing facility for the fire department, many of the costs are typical maintenance costs. Items such as new mechanical systems, a new roof, windows, etc. are things most building need at 45 years of age. Some of these should have been done some years ago as part of a normal maintenance program, but the city neglected to do them. So we have some catch up on deferred maintenance to do is all.

    March 9, 2012
  19. Griff Wigley said:

    Today’s Nfld News editorial: Safety Center site split should be reevaluated

    Mayor Mary Rossing had the only vote that made sense regarding the council’s latest decision on the Safety Center… What wasn’t expected was Councilor Suzie Nakasian’s motion to split the fire and police departments into two locations — using the existing center for the Fire Department and the new site on Hwy. 3 for the police and administration. What wasn’t expected was that the motion passed, with only Rossing abstaining, noting that she lacked enough information to have an informed discussion, much less a vote…

    We’d like to be writing about how great it is that the city is finally moving forward after years of mulling a new Safety Center. We’ve pushed for that on these pages before. How unfortunate that instead we are recommending the vote be recalled and re-examined so that residents know exactly what a two-site proposal entails with regard to both logistics and cost.

    March 10, 2012
  20. David Koenig said:

    Griff, my experience is 10+ years dated, but I do recall separate accounts that were for specific purposes.

    March 13, 2012
  21. David Koenig said:

    Sean, that’s just the point. If you don’t capitalize costs that you know are going to happen, you are mis-pricing the project.

    Your car does not cost what it says on the sticker. In a rational decision about buying a car, you factor in the insurance costs, cost of gas, maintenance, etc. Cars cost a lot more than the sticker price. So, too, do buildings.

    If you misprice an investment, you will, on some occasions, make an investment decision that “destroys value”. See Subprime Crisis.

    March 13, 2012
  22. kiffi summa said:

    The NFNews has an article today entitled: “Fire Chief rethinks reuse of Northfield Safety Center”.

    On May 21, Chief Franek responded to Mayor Rossing’s request ” …to clarify his position on the potential reuse of the Safety Center and the proposed location for a new facility in writing.”
    As quoted by the NFNews: “I just wanted him to state it publicly”she said.

    Chief Franek’s letter of May 21 was delivered to the council for their May 22 meeting, but was not discussed.

    The first Paragraph of today’s story says that the letter expresses an opinion which reverses his earlier opinion; the insert box about “the letter” says the Chief’s opinion “… dated back to his votes with the two Safety Center task forces”.

    Obviously, both these statements cannot be true, and so what is the focus of the article?
    It clearly says that the Fire Chief reversed his earlier opinion; the Mayor says it complies with his earlier opinion, but she wants him “to state it publicly”, but it was not publicly discussed, so how ‘public’ could it be?

    Once again, the ‘public’ is left out of a clear discussion by both the Council, and the NFNews.

    May 30, 2012

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