As Vinton Police Chief Ted Paxton and Captain Eric Dickinson walked through the police station and identified each of the rooms in their corner of the city hall building, one thing was made clear: storage and adequate space were lacking. The city had moved out the Vinton Unlimited offices in 2015 and given the space to the Police Department, yet both issues would continue to be present over the years.
“We’re grateful to be able to get this additional space when we did,” Dickinson said. “But it was honestly a temporary measure. The additional space was better than we had before and easy to make happen, but we really need to address space sooner, rather than later.”
The Vinton Volunteer Fire Department several years ago started considering the possibility of moving the fire station after several floods impacted their ability to respond. While researching this possibility, it was realized North Benton Ambulance and the police station were also located in the floodplain from the Cedar River. This fact sparked an intriguing idea: build a building to house all three services under one roof out of the floodplain.
“We put a committee together with a representative from the police department, North Benton Ambulance, and us,” Fire Chief Charlie Garwood told members of Kiwanis during a recent meeting. Our very first meeting was May 8 of 2018.”
The process of erecting a new emergency service building has been a slow, patient process. First off, the committee needed to locate properties to build upon outside of flooding concerns and come to an agreement on just how big the facility should be. Garwood, along with three other representatives from the three departments, attended an emergency facilities seminar in Chicago in 2018 to learn what they would need to accomplish going forward.
Nine architects approached the committee and City of Vinton to offer their service, with Solum Lang Architects of Cedar Rapids being selected. They approached each of the three departments with a request to write down what they wanted and how much space they’d need.
“As we kept moving forward, we tweaked and adjusted things and started to get some sense of what it could look like,” Garwood said. “They color coded the different departments as we went through different floor plans.”
The committee secured a four-acre corner of the Braille School lot for the new building, leading to designs that fit with the space allowed. According to Garwood, the current design he showed the Kiwanis is approximately 33,000 square feet. The south side of the building faces West 13th Street, while the east side exits on to J Ave.
“This would be big for us to have a purposely built facility for the police department,” Paxton said. “We are looking at right between 6,000-7,500 square feet for our department alone. The space is adequate. I believe that the city is growing out towards the southwest, so it’s a great location.”
The current layout of the police department also poses a security concern according to Paxton. While he would like the department to be “approachable and accessible to the public,” there is no secure separation between rooms and anyone who walks in can access all the unlocked rooms.
North Benton Ambulance (NBA) also lacks the proper space in their current facilities according to Dickinson, who also serves as Vice-President for the Board of Directors responsible for the non-city emergency entity. In fact, space has been an issue for NBA from day one.
“In the vehicle bays, there’s not enough room to pull the cots out with the ambulance fully inside,” Dickinson said. “When the crew needs to clean or disinfect the cot or rig after a call, they have to pull the rig part of the way out and have the overhead door open. There’s not an adequate locker room, shower space or enough storage space. They have many of the same issues that we have here with the police department.”
Space was also a need for the fire department. The fire trucks leave very little room for gear and firemen to get through on a regular basis, according to Garwood. Vinton Fire specifically requested larger truck bays to be able fit seven vehicles and separate rooms for putting their gear on and decontamination of gear after a fire.
The current price estimate of the project is approximately $11.7 million, but the City of Vinton may not see all but 13 percent of the cost fall on their lap. The current plan is to look at several different funding sources to cover the cost. According to Chris Ward, Vinton City Administrator, the city can receive as much as $6,435,000 from a USDA Rural Development grant, or around 51 percent of the proposed cost. Tax increment financing generated by the Braille School purchase by Hobart Historic Restoration last year will cover approximately $3.7 million. Iowa Homeland Security will provide $900,000 as the building will host a storm shelter. Just over 1.5 million would have to be generated by a city bond issue.
“No matter what, this has to go to the voters in a special election,” Ward said. “I’m not sure if that election would be this November or have to wait until next year. There’s always room for a special election in our budget. We’d like to educate the community first before we put this to a vote, informing them of the purpose of this facility and hearing their feelings on it.”
From providing adequate workspace for each department to necessary evidence storage for the police department, all three entities have expressed their need for this facility to be built.
“Everyone wants good streets, good schools, good parks, but all too often emergency services take a backseat,” Dickinson said. “You may go a good chunk of your life without needing to call one of us. But when you do, you want well-equipped, prepared, trained professionals. This new building would help tremendously with that.”
This is a developing story and VInton Newspapers will have more updates on the progress of the proposed emergency services building when available.