Port, Saukville negotiating over firehouse site

Deal that has eluded municipalities in the past is key to city’s plan for facility on land off Hwy. 33
By 
KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Ozaukee Press staff

The Port Washington Common Council on Tuesday met in closed session for about 30 minutes to discuss a proposal from the Village of Saukville regarding who will provide sewer service to the former Schanen property on Highway 33, where the city is considering building a new fire station.

Aldermen took no action following the closed session, which was closed to discuss negotiations with the village for “the potential transfer of sanitary sewer service area between the Village of Saukville and the City of Port Washington,” according to the agenda.

“We’re continuing discussions with Saukville,” City Administrator Mark Grams said after the closed session. 

For years, the two communities have discussed the sewer service area as the city has sought to develop the 40-acre Schanen farm, which is owned by the city.

Although the land is in the City of Port and Port’s sewer lines abut the property, it is in Saukville’s sanitary sewer service area, and village officials have said they are prepared to extend service to the site. But because of the distance it would have to extend those lines, the cost would be considerable.

City officials originally sought to obtain the sewer service rights as they negotiated with Port Youth Baseball, which wanted to create a baseball complex on the property,  and now are looking at the issue again as the city moves forward with plans to build a new fire station on the west side of the community.

Village officials met in closed session twice last month to discuss the issue, and Port Mayor Marty Becker said the village had made a proposal to the city regarding the sewer service area.

“It’s kind of up to them to tell us what they want in order for us to use it,” he said. “They know we want to use it for a fire station.”

Even if the two sides cannot reach an agreement on transferring the sewer service area for the property to the City of Port, officials have said they could move ahead with construction on the site using a holding tank.

Even as negotiations between the city and village begin, the city is considering moving ahead with a request for proposals to design a new fire station and renovate the current facility.

Ald. Dan Benning, a member of the fire station taskforce, said Tuesday he is working to revise the request for proposals, separating the proposals for the two facilities.

He also noted that the city is still open to partnering with the county, which has proposed a joint building project at the Justice Center that would include not only a fire station but a 10,000-square-foot enclosed vehicle storage facility and a 5,000-square-foot outdoor vehicle storage yard for the sheriff’s office. 

The layout suggested by the county was not conducive to a firehouse, Benning said,  who said that high water in the area may have required building a structure on pilings, which would have added to the cost and potentially caused settling and cracking issues.

County officials, he added, were not receptive to a joint project at the Schanen site, saying it was “not a logical location for them but they did not completely rule it out.”

“We need clarity from the county leadership team to understand their statements and if they are serious about partnering with the city,” Benning said.

The Schanen property, he noted, is owned by the city, level, has easy access to not only Highway 33 but also Highway LL and has ready access to the areas covered by the city’s emergency services.

The request for proposals is needed, Benning said, to clarify the potential costs and building requirements for a new station.

“There have been a number of ‘experts,’ including myself, weighing in on the requirements, design and costs of a new facility,” he said. “None of us from the city or county should consider ourselves to be experts in the design and building of a fire station. 

“We need to engage with a fire station design firm to take our requirements and provide us with a realistic facility concept and ballpark cost estimates on the Highway 33 (Schanen) site so we can determine the right direction to move forward with a new facility.”

The estimated $5 million pricetag for the fire station could be wildly inaccurate, he said.

“I think we have to spend the money (to hire a firm) and send out the RPF to see where we are at,” Mayor Marty Becker said. 

Ald. John Sigwart questioned whether the city should be designing a fire station with a 50-year life, as proposed by the taskforce, or a three-phase project that will meet the city’s needs today, in 20 years and in 50 years.

“I hope that’s part of the planning,” he said, noting it will spread the cost of the building over time.

Ald. Paul Neumyer agreed with Sigwart.

“I’m not buying 50 years,” he said. “Changes will happen, especially changes in equipment and technology.”

Ald. Mike Gasper said he doesn’t believe the city should be wedded to the Schanen site, saying a study of projected growth and response times should be done before any decision on a site is made.

“I’d like to see us stay site agnostic as long as we can,” he said, suggesting other areas of the city may prove to be better locations.

In addition, he said, there is a trend toward combined departments that could influence what is needed in a fire station.

“I don’t want to see us spend all this money and 10 or 15 years down the line say, ‘That was really overbuilt,’” Gasper said, noting the city should be looking at its needs today with an accommodation for future expansion.

The council will discuss the request for proposals when it meets again on Tuesday, Oct. 15.

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