The Key Peninsula Fire District 16 board of fire commissioners is nearing completion of its research to determine the future of Key Center real estate parcels it purchased in 2021 for a possible new headquarters and to decide on the long-term maintenance of existing stations.
The district hired the architecture firm Rice Fergus Miller in 2021 to evaluate its facilities across the peninsula and Herron Island for needed repairs and possible remodeling. The firm presented its preliminary findings to the commissioners May 9, detailing options from simple renovations to new construction, ranging from $1.7 million to $22 million.
The district’s Capital Facilities Planning Committee, which includes commissioners and district personnel, asked for significant revisions to lower those costs and is waiting for a revised report before making recommendations to the full board of commissioners, which will then seek public input.
The district also hired the consulting firm FCS Group of Redmond earlier this year to evaluate the financial health of the district and how to best manage its resources, including paying for capital improvements or new construction. Its final report will be delivered after evaluating the architect’s revised options.
“I’m anticipating in the next few weeks, first part of July, we should have all the information that we need to move forward and make some sort of a decision,” said fire commission Chair Stan Moffett.
“The whole capital facilities plan involves not only a new station in Key Center but also seismic upgrades to the existing stations, and there’s some roof and HVAC work, basic infrastructure things that need to be done,” he said. “We could say we want to move forward and do a survey to get a feel for how the public feels ... We could say we don’t feel the public thinks this is needed, and we may table the whole thing.”
The purchase of the real estate in Key Center has been a source of frustration voiced by many in the community who have stated at public meetings and elsewhere that the properties were either overpriced or unnecessary. The parcels include what is called the Olson estate, a residence with a pasture behind located almost immediately across the KP Highway from Station 46, the KPFD headquarters, and the Calahan property, site of the former O’Callahan’s restaurant on the corner of KP Highway and Olson Drive NW.
“I know that we have people who are very much against what we are attempting to do, people who have not agreed with the purchases of the property,” Moffett said. “Personally, I would be very much in favor of selling that corner (Calahan) property, retaining the other (Olson) property, and bringing up the issue of a headquarters building at a later date.
“We’re continuing to work on this because I know the board as a whole has felt over the last five years since we originally brought this up that it is something important that we need to look forward to, 20, 25 years down the road,” he said.
At the May 9 board meeting, KP resident and volunteer firefighter Dave Vezzani spoke to the commissioners about not treating the capital facilities plan as something inevitable or perhaps well-founded.
“In December 2017, Chief (Guy) Allen went to the committee and said we really need to start looking (for a new HQ) and we should stay in Key Center. That February, the Citizens’ Advisory Panel (CAP) made a motion and said, ‘Yeah, let’s try to stay in Key Center.’ There were five individuals at that meeting, and the commissioners continue to use that as all the justification for what happened across the street (with the property purchases) … My biggest fear is the blowback from all this is going to be taken out on (the next levy) … All this energy that we’re spending on this — with the community not happy — I hope the same kind of energy is being spent to give our firefighters the equipment and the apparatus they need to do their jobs now.”
John Pat Kelly, secretary for the CAP, told KP News the district needs to start listening.
“A lot of this could have been avoided by taking the community’s temperature before jumping in,” he said. “I think the first thing we need is a real honest snapshot of where we are right now. If we had to sell the properties, for example, what could we get? From there we can lay out our options.
“By all means, let’s do any kind of deferred maintenance that needs to be done, any kind of small projects that could really help out, but as far as building a brand new fire center on that property, I don’t think that’s in the cards until the board proves itself more fiscally responsible.”
Kelly is running for fire commission position 5 in the November election in a bid to replace outgoing Commissioner Ben Rasmussen.
Cambria Queen, the CAP chair, is running for the same seat. She joined the panel in 2021, after learning of the real estate deals.
“The existing headquarters, in my opinion, is too small for what we need. If there is a way that we can find as a community to make, for example, the Olson property work at a reasonable cost and perhaps sell the lot that the current headquarters is on and the corner Calahan property, that would make sense,” she said.
“I invite any citizen of the peninsula to any of the CAP meetings. They’re held the third Wednesday of every month at the Home station, usually from 7 to 8 p.m. If anybody ever has any questions that I may be able to answer, I am more than willing to talk to them.”
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