Camas-Washougal officials move forward on fire station replacements

Camas will place $26.3M bond for new fire station headquarters on Aug. 6 ballot; Washougal unveils station designs, eyes $15.7M bond proposal

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A rendering shows a design idea for the future Camas-Washougal Fire Department headquarters station in downtown Camas. (Illustration courtesy of the city of Camas)

Voters in Camas and Washougal will soon decide the fate of fire-station replacements in their respective cities.

On Monday, April 15, Camas City Council members voted unanimously to place a proposition on the Aug. 6 primary election ballot asking voters if they will approve a $26.3 million bond to build a new Camas-Washougal Fire Department (CSFD) headquarters — a replacement for CVFD’s Station 41 in downtown Camas — and purchase a new fire engine.

“We are in dire need of a new station that can carry us through the next decades as our area grows and our station (exceeds) its lifespan,” CWFD Fire Chief Cliff Free told the Council Monday.

Councilman John Nohr, who works as a fire chief in north Clark County, thanked Free for his work on the proposed station build.

“The fire station here at City Hall has been out of date for many, many years,” Nohr said Monday. “These stations have to meet critical infrastructure standards to withstand earthquakes and other (natural disasters). When that happens, we want to know that our firefighters and paramedics will … be able to get out and help those in need. Bonds are the way you pay for major purchases like this, and it looks like staff has done a good job putting together this package.”

If approved, the new CWFD headquarters would be built on the former Bank of America site located along Northeast Fourth Avenue in downtown Camas. The City purchased the site for $1.6 million in December 2018 to house its Camas City Hall Annex building.

Free told Council members in January that the City’s consultant team from the Battle Ground-based Johansson Wing Architects had initially found five possible sites for the Station 41 replacement that would accommodate the CWFD headquarters, vehicles and personnel and serve the greater downtown Camas area, then whittled those options down to the best three sites.

Unfortunately, Free said, the City had to go back to the drawing board when those three preferred sites had issues with land owners who either didn’t want to sell or were hoping to get more money for their property than the City could afford.

Free and the consultants returned to the original list of possible sites and realized the former Bank of America site at 528 N.E. Fourth Ave. near Camas City Hall could, with a little tweaking and a partial road vacation on Northeast Everett Street between Third and Fourth avenues, meet the fire department’s headquarters needs.

“We went back to the list and said, ‘What can we do to make it work for us?’” Free told Council members in January during their annual two-day planning conference. “If we vacate the north half of Everett Street, we could create the space we need.”

Plans for the new headquarters station include public spaces along Northeast Fourth Avenue, including a “pocket park,” a community meeting room and an outdoor seating area to accommodate downtown visitors passing by the new fire station on their way to or from downtown shops, restaurants, the Camas library, Camas City Hall or the weekly Camas Farmer’s Market.

The plans also call for the purchase of a new fire engine to replace a vehicle that has come to the end of its usable lifespan.

Free told Council members in March that, if at least 60% of the voters approve the bond measure this summer, the City would finish designing the new CWFD headquarters station and “hopefully break ground” in 2025.

Washougal unveils fire station designs; eyes August ballot

The city of Washougal and Portland-based MacKenzie Architecture firm unveiled the design concept and site/floor plans for the City’s fire station/police station upgrade project at an open-house event on April 11 at Camas-Washougal Fire Station 43.

“The design team has done a great job with this,” Washougal City Manager David Scott said during the Washougal City Council’s April 8 workshop. “There was a lot of feedback from the community from the previous open house and the online open house, and the best features that were most desired by or liked by the community were incorporated here.The council (was presented) a couple different versions, and there was unanimity in the council about this particular scheme, so that’s what’s become the concept. This is based on community and council feedback and sign-off.”

MacKenzie senior project manager Brian Hjelte told the Council during the workshop that the existing fire station will be demolished; the station’s cell tower will be relocated; an adjacent building, which formerly housed the Silver Star Search and Rescue organization, will be used as a temporary fire station during the demolition/construction period, which will last about 12 months; and that the City’s police station will retain its existing parking lot and water quality swale, but won’t undergo any exterior improvements. “I would like to give our design team a lot of kudos. They’ve done a terrific job,” Hjelte said. “We’ve been meeting over the last three months, and within a short period of time, they’ve done a phenomenal job of helping us to convey the information that we need (to convey) to put together a project that we believe the community would be very proud of if they stepped forward and funded this project.”

The new fire station will include a pull-through apparatus bay, according to Hjelte.

“That’s something that (Camas-Washougal Fire Department) Chief (Cliff) Free and his crew does not currently have,” Hjelte said. “That’s actually one of the problems with the existing station. When you have a pull-through apparatus bay, you’ve got a lot better ventilation. The current station doesn’t have that, so as a vehicle backs into the apparatus bay, it puts off a lot of exhaust. That’s just the nature of having either a gas- or a diesel-powered vehicle. And right now, that exhaust is going right back into the facility. When you have a pull-through, you can open up the doors from both sides, and you can have a lot better ventilation. The ventilation is very important to keep out and to keep the contaminants out of the living spaces within the facility itself.”

The facility will be built with ribbed metal panels and concrete metal units, according to Hjelte.

“I really like a lot of visibility — a lot of glass, a lot of windows,” Washougal councilmember Molly Coston said. “It kind of goes in line with the police station, (which features) some of the angles. It looks like it fits here. And it’s in the same vein with some of the materials as some of the homes around it. Even though the homes are smaller, it doesn’t really stand out. I mean, (the area doesn’t) have columns or pillars, and there were a couple (of options) that had some of that stuff. It’s a modern design, contemporary, but yet I don’t think it will go out of style.”

Washougal Mayor David Stuebe said the new station will serve as a “cornerstone” of the city.

“I think it’s something for the next 50 years,” he said. “If we’re going to build Washougal right, we want to be proud of our city. We don’t want some dilapidated (building). That’s why I don’t want to go too cheap with this thing. We’re a growing city. People are proud to live here. I think the whole community will be proud to say, ‘That’s our firehouse. We were responsible for building this thing.’”

City leaders announced their intention to construct a new facility in December 2023, stating that the current fire station needs “immediate and total replacement.”

According to the City, the current building:

• Frequently floods with stormwater, causing structural damage and the use of sandbags as a preventative measure;

• Intermittently has sewage backups;

• Does not have a dedicated space for decontaminating clothing and gear after responding to a fire, risking firefighters’ health and safety due to exposure to carcinogens;

• Lacks an exhaust system for fire engines to maintain healthy air quality;

• Would not withstand a significant earthquake;

• Lacks space for additional firefighters/emergency medical services personnel to meet growing demands;

• Lacks mandated safety clearances around equipment;

• Lacks facilities that fully comply with diversity, equity and inclusion guidelines;

• Lacks private medical screening and treatment area;

• Does not meet Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards for public access; and

• Lacks a public restroom.

“I mean, it was really basically built as a pole barn 50 years ago,” Coston said. “They’ve sort of done a little bit of insulation, but not a lot. The sleeping quarters and kitchen are functional, but just barely. (The department) has three stations in Camas and Washougal, and the firefighters could be assigned to any one of them. Grass Valley is new, and the downtown Camas station is in nice shape. They’re like, ‘Yeah, we don’t want to go to Washougal.’ I want to change that perception.”

The new fire station would be located adjacent to and adjoining the Washougal Police Department (WPD) station to allow for shared use of break rooms, fitness facilities and a training/community room, according to the City.

“I’m excited about (the fact that) it’s a campus. I like that ‘one team, one fight’ concept,” Stuebe said. “I want the police in the fire to be one team and share some stuff. These are our first responders, and I didn’t want to have them separated.”

The Council will vote next week on a proposal to place a $15.7 million bond ordinance for the project on the Aug. 6 primary election ballot.

“We’re looking at a term of 25 years,” Scott said during the April 8 workshop. “The all-in financing cost is right around 4.5%, and that equates to an excess levy rate of 19 cents per $1,000. About 7% of this cost is attributable to the police station — about 1.34 cents per $1,000. The lion’s share of it, 93% of it, would be attributable to fire — 17.6 cents. The monthly cost to the median home in Washougal is $9.23 a month. That’s the investment that voters would be considering for our public safety future.”

Coston said that the bond numbers “look really good.”

“As a matter of fact, when I saw them and compared them to the first numbers that we got, I was like, ‘I can’t believe we got (it down to 19 cents),’” she said. “Originally it was 26 cents. We went back to our professional services team and said, ‘Where can we cut some costs that won’t impact the dynamics of this project?’, and they came through for us. We did make some changes, nothing that was going to impair the efficiency and functionality of the building.”

The project is estimated to cost about $17.5 million but could come down to the “mid-to-upper $16 million range” after subtracting value engineering realization costs, according to Scott, who added that the City will use buyer impact fees and real estate excise tax to make up the difference.

“That 19 cents per $1,000, that’s kind of the magic number when we talk to people about getting bonds — they say, ‘Keep it below 20,’” Stuebe said. “If we can come in at 19, that is a responsible number. Working with the architects, we don’t want to have any ‘unforeseen expenses’ or things like that. I really want to hold them to the fire on this. We have to be responsible to our community. But I don’t want to go cheap, either. I don’t want the roof to leak after one year because we didn’t put enough into it. It’s a balance.”

The city of Washougal last issued a general obligation bond in 2002 for the construction of a police station. The bond, which was approved by voters at a rate of 20 cents per $1,000, was retired in 2022.

“We just paid that off, so now it’s like, ‘Let’s invest in a fire station.’ The timing is right to do that,” Stuebe said. “One (payment) dropped off, so now we’re (asking) for a new one. That’s being responsible to keep the city going. We don’t want to overtax anybody, but we want to keep this place going to meet our needs, because we are growing.

“And the longer we wait, the more it’s going to cost. It’s like the I-5 bridge, right? Same thing. We need this. It’s important for this community. I don’t want to depend on Camas. We’re trying to play nice, but if it doesn’t go nice, I don’t want to be like, ‘We’re in trouble now because we can’t provide all these resources.’ This is an investment for the future.”

If the bond passes, design work would begin immediately with construction to follow, according to the City. If the bond fails, City leaders said they will “use what we have as best we can, but eventually, we’ll have trouble responding to emergencies, including longer response times, and we’ll have more trouble recruiting new firefighters to replace those who retire.”

For more information and to provide feedback, visit place ment-and-Police-S.