City of Viroqua breaks ground for new fire station

by Tim Hundt

VIROQUA, Wis. – The city of Viroqua broke ground on their new 26,000 square foot fire station this week that will be located in the cities industrial park on Nelson Parkway just north of the Wild West Days grounds. The new station will replace the station the fire department has occupied since about the mid 1990s at the end of Broadway Street that was located in converted beer warehouse.

The fire department had been sharing the existing building with the police department and had hoped that location would meet the needs of the department after the police department moved to new building in 2021. But the department found that while the additional space was helpful the building was lacking many of the features needed in a modern fire station and the number of calls the department was getting had gone up dramatically. The number of calls this year is expected to exceed 650 and Chief Chad Buros said the city is getting the services of about 32 volunteers with a total payroll expense of about $70,000-$75,000 a year.

The department also serves the townships of Jefferson, Franklin and Viroqua, with a combined population of about 9,000 people, and will face additional demand with new housing projects in and around the city coming online in the next few years.

The department undertook a space needs assessment and considered building onto the existing building but the decision to build a new building got a lot easier when the department received a $5.25 million grant through U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin’s office.

Rendering of what the new Viroqua Fire Station will look like
Existing Fire Fire Station is located in a converted beer warehouse

Once the department knew they had that federal funding they began working on more detailed plans with Keller Inc., the firm they hired to design and manage the construction of the building. A building committee was formed that included Mayor Running, Fire Chief Buros, Assistant Chief Glen Martin, Alderpersons Kristal Welter and John Thompson. That committee began touring other area facilities and working with Keller on developing a final plan. As the plans were presented to the city they changed a number of times to help keep costs down and the final design came in with a cost of about $9.9 million.

You can read our previous stories about the fire station including design and layout here.

That left the department and city staff with the job of finding the difference in the funding between the $5.25 million in federal funds and the $9.9 million total cost, or about $4.75 million. After some lengthy negotiations the three townships served by the department agreed to kick in $300,000 a piece in exchange for dropping the space rental charges, leaving the city to fill in the remaining $3.75 million for the city of Viroqua residents, which ended up being about $3.9 million once the cost of borrowing was included.

Impact of the borrowing to real estate taxes for City of Viroqua residents is outlined in the chart below. Cost of the borrowing will add an additional .84 cents for every $1,000 on property tax. Or about $211 a year for a $250,000 property. That breaks down to $212 a year.

Bids for construction were presented at the public safety committee on Tuesday, April 23, and they were much better than had been projected by the designers. As the table below shows the projected cost of the project on March 26 was 9,904,925 and the cost of the project once all the bids were opened is $9,456,490 or $448,435 lower than estimated.

Viroqua Mayor Justin Running

Mayor Running said he understands the concern some taxpayers have that the city has taken on a lot of building in the last four to five years with a new city hall, a new police station, but with the $5.25 million in federal funds (53% of the total cost) the city will never be able to do a project like this any cheaper.

“Locally here,” said Running. “When you look at our our municipal infrastructure. I think the folks that have been in charge over the years have done such a good job of prolonging bigger purchases, and you know, fixing things, putting band aids on things, and keeping them functional. Unfortunately, I think, we just hit an unfortunate time where when you looked at city hall and the shape it was in there, there wasn’t a lot of options if we truly care about health and safety of our employees. The fire station, we’ve outgrown that. There’s health and safety issues there too. The PD (police department) was in that building. They were the first ones to move out, so. I completely understand people’s concern with with what’s going on, but with with this project specifically, you know, we’ve got a $5.25 million grant. We’re never going to get this done any cheaper and there was definitely a need to do it. You know, with the partners we’ve got come together on it, I think it’s definitely the right time.”

Running also addressed some of the features in the building that some have people have questioned the need for like sleeping rooms, and a history area. Running said it is all part of an effort to help the department remain a mostly volunteer department by recruiting new members, and hopefully avoid the higher cost of full-time paid department.

“That’s something we see nationally here,” said Running. “Volunteerism is is struggling, and one of the things that our chief and myself have talked to chiefs over across the state is, if you can have amenities that people are excited about being in, modern, all those things, it actually promotes new opportunities for people. So volunteerism, there’s a department to our north that built a new facility and he said it was the best thing they ever did to get a new interest in the fire department. So, you know, as people watch this interview and watch the progress of this building, if it’s something they want to be interested in, we’re always looking for new members. So call the chief, and or talk to another member and fill out an application. We’d love to have you.”

Viroqua Fire Chief Chad Buros

Chief Buros said the city is growing and with some large housing projects already underway the department is trying to be proactive to meet that demand of increased call volume, and the need to recruit more people.

“In a year and a half, we more than doubled our call volume when we started medical,” said Buros. “It went from we were just under 300 to now we’re gonna probably hit 650 this year. And so with those numbers there, there’s there’s an obvious need to have facilities and equipment to handle and the need for more volunteer firefighters to handle those situations, so this building will do that for us”

Buros said the department could have stayed in their current building for a while longer, but with their rate of growth and the federal money available, the time was right to make the leap.

“The fact that the grant became available and we got, we got the grant,” said Buros. “It was just the right time that doesn’t come around very often. And so we had to take the opportunity. And so yes, we could have lived there for a little while longer, don’t know that timeline because you just don’t know things are going to change. But absolutely, as we add members and capabilities and the training aspect, we absolutely need this.”

Construction is just getting started and the building should be completed by the spring of 2025.

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Tim Hundt

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