Minn. fire hall to get a makeover

By Patrick Garmoe
Duluth News-Tribune
Copyright 2007 Duluth News-Tribune
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News
PARK POINT, Minn. — Fire Hall No. 5, at 2138 Minnesota Ave., on Park Point, is about to get a needed facelift.

This week, nine architects are getting requests to apply to reconstruct the back third of the building while keeping its historic trappings.

When the $450,000 project ends in fall 2008, its living quarters will be shifted to the front, while the back of the building will be expanded to fit a firetruck and an ambulance.

While older firetrucks fit in the fire hall, none of the newer ones in the city's fleet do.

"I'm certainly supporting it," said John Strongitharm, Duluth's fire chief, who said the garage is too small for a department fire engine.

Plus, the 76-year-old building is falling apart.

One section is sinking into the ground, while wood in the floor joists is rotting, said Terry Groshong, Duluth's interim city architect.

Initially, there was talk of tearing down the fire station and building it onto the Lafayette Square Community Building.

"That's not in the cards with our budgeting situation," Groshong said.

Merging the fire station with the community building would have cost a $1 million or more, Groshong said.

Renovating the structure — by relying on designs originally drafted in 2004 — should cost $450,000, he said.

The city's Heritage Preservation Commission voiced vociferous opposition to tearing down the current fire station and adding on to the community building.

"We would want the building to be saved, to be adaptively reused," said Penny Clark, president of the Heritage Preservation Commission.

The first hall, which replaced a barn, was built around the time the original traveling suspension carriage bridge was constructed in 1905. The current hall was built in 1931, two years after the suspended bridge was converted to the Aerial Lift Bridge.

Now that plans are to simply renovate at its current location, history buffs in town are satisfied.

"That's exactly what we wanted to hear," Clark said. "We don't mind alterations, if they fit and are sensitive to the original architecture," she said.

The original plan devised several years ago was to at least renovate the fire station, Groshong said.

The design will involve tearing down a third of the station, fronting Lake Superior.

"The earth is swallowing it as we speak," Groshong said.

So while the actual building won't be much bigger — about 2,250 square feet compared with the old 1,875 square feet -- an entire third of it will be replaced, Groshong said.

"It's just going to be significantly more efficient," Groshong said.

The new layout also will mean that firefighters will be able to drive the firetruck straight into the building instead of having to stop traffic on Minnesota Avenue and slowly back it into the station, Groshong said.

The new portion will be designed to look as historic as the rest of the building currently does, Groshong said.

"The intent is to try and do an historic restoration to this facility," he said.

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