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Fire district plans upgrades

Funds paid to local governments by Google for its new construction will directly lead to more new construction — by Mid-Columbia Fire & Rescue.

An agreement reached by the city and county with Google has meant a one-time payment to the fire district of $484,464, plus annual payments for 15 years of $90,000.

The one-time payment will help remodel the fire district’s currently unused Station 2, a four-bay fire station in Columbia View Heights.

The annual payments will be used to pay for a student volunteer program and to build a training tower. All these efforts are geared toward restoring the fire district’s former solid ranking from a national insurance rating agency. The rating agency lowered the district’s rating several years ago for several reasons, one of which was a lack of multiple stations for crews to respond from.

The decreased insurance rating has translated into higher homeowner insurance costs for residents in the fire district.

Under a tax abatement agreement, Google agreed to give local governments a lump sum payment, as well as ongoing annual payments for the 15-year duration of the abatement agreement.

The agreement was spurred by Google’s decision to build a new data storage center at its campus in The Dalles.

The fire district’s Station 2 is now at about 3,750 square feet, and a remodel would add another 800 square feet, for a new total of 4,550 square feet. The main fire district is about 23,000 square feet.

The fire district had already had a feasibility study done on a Station 2 remodel, which estimated the remodel at about $500,000.

Once the fire district and the city finalize an agreement on transferring the one-time payment, the fire district will get architectural drawings done for the remodel, and then the project will go out to bid, probably by next summer, said Fire Chief Bob Palmer.

Before the project goes out to bid, a committee of paid and volunteer firefighters will meet with an architect to assist with the design of the station.

The feasibility study suggested turning two of the four fire bays into living quarters, and adding a new fire bay on the south end of the building.

Rough plans include four one-person dorm rooms, a fitness room, living area, kitchen and dining room, office area, three fire bays and a radio room.

The intent is to man the station with career staff, supplemented with volunteers.

“That’s a key word, supplement, because we can’t replace [paid staff with volunteers]. We need to supplement paid staff with volunteers,” Palmer said.

The new training tower would cost $587,000, according to a bid the fire district got just six months ago. It would be four stories tall and cost $56,000 a year to retire the debt over 15 years.

The annual money won’t start arriving until Google finishes building its new data storage center, which could take two to three years, Palmer said.

The tower would include a burn room and some search and rescue features.

The burn room would include Class A combustibles, which are those found in a typical home, Palmer said.

The $34,000 a year is to be spent on a student volunteer program, which is designed to help students with college tuition in fields such as fire science and paramedic courses, in exchange for them doing a certain number of shifts per month. It is allowable under the Department of Labor for fire districts to pay for tuition costs in exchange for volunteer hours.

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