Port officials open to joint firehouse despite chief’s concerns

Aldermen say city-county facility has potential but Mitchell argues shared facility would be too large for Justice Center site

PORT WASHINGTON FIRE CHIEF Mark Mitchell showed aldermen in 2014 just how crowded the current fire station on Washington Street is as he made a pitch for a new firehouse at that time. Press file photo
Ozaukee Press staff

Port Washington aldermen said Tuesday they are willing to work with Ozaukee County to create a joint building that would serve as a city firehouse and county storage facility even as Fire Chief Mark Mitchell expressed concern about the plan.

The one thing they all agreed on is that the city’s plans for a $5 million fire station on the city’s west side should not be delayed.

“I want to keep the momentum going,” Ald. Dan Benning said. “We need to get going on our needs.”

Ald. Jonathan Pleitner agreed, noting the city has been considering a fire station expansion project since 1992.

“I don’t’ think we have time to wait anymore,” he said. “I would love to share a facility with the county, but if it doesn’t work out we should continue moving forward.”

Mayor Marty Becker concurred, saying, “It’s time to move forward on this. It’s not going to happen at a turtle’s pace.”

In an Aug. 1 letter to aldermen, Mitchell   said that the amount of space the county needs is larger than expected and there isn’t enough room at the Justice Center site the county owns for a combined facility.

At a meeting with the county several weeks ago, Mitchell wrote, he learned “the county’s project had grown to a facility of 10,000 square feet housing over 20 vehicles and trailers, outdoor storage for impounded vehicles and possibly an indoor shooting range.”

“It is the Fire Department’s opinion that the scope of the joint project now would exceed the available property offered by the county,” he added. “Our project should not be reduced in scope or size.”

Mitchell also expressed concern that if a building were constructed at the Justice Center, the exit would be onto Highway LL, which he said would be “potentially dangerous due to the road configuration.”

City Administrator Mark Grams told the Finance and License Committee and the Common Council Tuesday that city and county officials met on July 22 to discuss the issue.

County officials, he said, have a concept plan for the type of building they want but only a rough square footage.

“They’re still evaluating their needs,” he said. 

Grams said he hopes to have better information from the county before the council’s Aug. 20 meeting.

County Administrator Jason Dzwinel said that the county is working on compiling the needed information, adding they have flexibility in how the county’s portion of the building would be sited.

The county has been looking at spots to build a storage facility for some time, he said, noting they need space to store vehicles such as the SWAT team command center and the rescue boat that are currently stored in a number of locations.

The county would also like to share the community room planned for the new firehouse, Dzwinel said.

“I do believe there are strong public policy reasons to work together on this project,” he said. “The city and county will realize cost savings, avoid duplicating efforts and both enjoy enhanced security and safety by collaborating.” 

The county has proposed building the joint project at the southwest corner of the Justice Center parking lot, but that may not be large enough, Grams said. The county is looking at how much space is available, how much it needs now and into the future for parking and the amount of wetlands in the area.

Last month, officials noted that if the county land isn’t adequate, they could consider purchasing some property from adjoining land owners.

The city needs three to four acres for the firehouse and an additional acre or two for a training facility, he said, adding that the county has talked about needing a roughly 10,000-square-foot facility for some time.

That would rule out the fire station task force’s plan to build a firehouse at the corner of highways LL and 33, next to a proposed Casey’s General Store, Grams said, because only about three acres would be available there.

The idea of building a joint facility on the former Schanen farm at the corner of Jackson Road and Highway 33, which the city owns, was also broached with the county, Grams said. The site is large enough for a joint facility, he said, but there are concerns about the availability of sewer and potential access issues onto Highway 33.

“They (the county) still would be interested in working with us at the Schanen farm,” Grams said.

Dzwinel would not comment on the potential change in location Wednesday, saying he knew nothing about it.

Becker said he planned to meet with Saukville officials “very soon” in an attempt to settle the sewer issue. The Schanen farm is in the Village of Saukville’s sanitary sewer district, giving the village the right to provide service there even though the city would provide water to the site. But the village’s sewer lines currently end west of the property, near Schmit Ford, and it would be costly to extend them to the site.

The idea of working together on a joint facility “is a great idea,” Pleitner said, as long as the city and county can agree on a site.

“If the Schanen farm works for both of us, that would be great,” he said.

Working with the county “only makes sense,” Ald. John Sigwart said. “It seems like there should be some economies there. We should be able to make this work.”

Ald. Mike Gasper said he’s always open to the idea of shared facilities, saying, “I think we should always explore cost savings.”

However, he cautioned that a different location should prompt a study of how that will affect response times for firefighters.


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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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Port Washington, WI 53074
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