S.D. city considers FD's request of $15M for station expansion

Fire Chief Jason Culberson said the city has discussed expanding Fire Station One for 30 years, and encouraged council members to act quickly


Siandhara Bonnet
Rapid City Journal, S.D.

RAPID CITY, S.D. — Eight members of the Rapid City Council agreed Friday that Fire Station One needs to be expanded but could not agree on whether it should be funded exclusively by COVID-19 surplus funds.

Council members and department directors met Friday to discuss which city agencies should get a share of $20 million.

Fire Chief Jason Culberson told council members that his department's needs are particularly urgent.

"I don't think anybody in here is going to disagree that something needs to be done (with the station)," Culberson said. "What'll happen if we don't invest in that building? We're going to have to start making some changes. It's beyond what we should be doing with that building."

Culberson estimated the city has already committed $2 million for design, plans and land for the station. He said there's been discussion about expanding the station for the past 30 years.

The chief proposed using $10 million of the $20 million in surplus funds at the May 10 special council meeting where eight department directors pitched projects. The request increased to $15 million in August. Culberson said the original $10 million was a "guesstimate" based on a 2016 study. He said Friday that costs of building materials have increased since then.

Fire Station One would expand to about 40,000 square feet if the council approves the expenditure.

Culberson said Friday there's nowhere else downtown where the station could go, and it needs to be centrally located. He also said every firefighter, administrator, EMT and paramedic comes to the station regularly.

"They have access to me and I have access to them," he said.

Culberson said it takes about an hour-and-a-half drive to get to each station in the city, which he does about three times a week.

City Finance Director Pauline Sumption said if the city took out a loan or issued a bond to pay for the renovation, the money to pay it back typically comes from either CIP, Capital Improvement Projects, or Vision Funds.

Public Works Director Dale Tech said the council needs to move forward with the fire department expansion as soon as possible.

"Take this money, build it, because we're not going to get a second chance," he said. "Infrastructure, streets, we can wait a little bit, they can't."

Tech originally requested about $4 million as seed money for infrastructure expansion. He said Friday that the money doesn't need to come from the surplus funds.

After council members discussed trying to find a way to pay for residential street repairs, Sumption said she will work on a CIP policy update that would focus on just that. This could be reviewed in October.

"I think there's a commitment we need to make to the CIP budget as well out of this discussion," Council member Jason Salamun said.

He said a lot of the council wants to make sure they take care of roads, water and sewer, but if they don't fund the station with the surplus funding, the money will come from other funds.

"If you care about infrastructure all together, this actually alleviates the pressure off of that which is a huge blessing," he said.

Council member Darla Drew said she's not comfortable giving three-quarters of the available funds to the Fire Department for Station 1's expansion.

"We've got other things that are important, other things that have waited," she said.

She said she could see starting with the $10 million and then returning to the project.

Council member Bill Evans said he would be OK using $7 to $7.5 million for the fire station and financing the rest with a loan.

He said they should discuss reacquiring old City Hall, which is where Cornerstone Rescue Mission is located. The organization owns the property and has been there since the 1980s.

Culberson said they've spoken to Cornerstone who was not receptive to the idea.

Culberson said he needs to have the funding source before they can request a bid advertisement. He said the station is 10 years behind on expansion.

"Our timeline is accelerated so much with the exponential expansion of our call volume to the point that we're behind," he said. "All of our studies say we should already have our east side fire station by now and a north side fire station, based on call volume."

He said there's going to be more funding requests for future expansion.

"That will be in the future and coming up very quickly," Culberson said.

He said they could also take the training tower request off the table for now.

Library Director Terri Davis started the meeting by rescinding her proposal for a bookmobile as other funding has become available. The library originally requested $200,000 of the surplus funding for a bookmobile.

Economic Development Director Matt Brunner and Garth Wadsworth, business retention and expansion manager, both with Elevate Rapid City, made a presentation on why the Opportunity Capture Fund needs more money.

Sumption originally asked the council for $2 million from the surplus for the Opportunity Fund. She said Elevate Rapid City requested money through the Vision Fund process.

Other projects the council discussed Friday include the $1.5 million for the southwest precinct for the Rapid City Police Department, $565,000 for streets, $200,000 for IT equipment, and $1 million for radios for public safety agencies.

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(c)2021 Rapid City Journal, S.D.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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