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Our View: Fire, city make right turn toward station solution

Apparently, there wasn’t a single moment that stands out when things shifted between the City of Durango and DFPD. But now, there’s a right turn toward a solution with the memorandum of understanding to explore the River City Hall site as a downtown fire station. We’re glad both parties are ready to talk turkey and prioritize DFPD’s great need to find its best site.

This is serious business. More than the location, DFPD needs a new station. More than the location, DFPD has to be able to provide emergency services.

“The current building is dreadfully poor, unsafe by fire station standards and best practices, does not comply with the fire code, and is undersized for our current staffing and for the call volume in the core of downtown,” said DFPD Chief Hal Doughty.

Let that sink in for a moment. A fire station that does not meet a fire code. And undersized for the call volume. We expect quick responses when we call DFPD and don’t want to learn any lessons the hard way.

We appreciate the seriousness of the two entities agreeing to a year of bimonthly meetings to review negotiations, ask questions and give the public updates simultaneously. Note, this word “simultaneously,” which indicates the shared spirit in keeping residents in the know. This sets up the city and fire district for successful collaborations. The MOU solidifies the commitment.

So many moving parts to consider on whether River City Hall will become the fire station’s forever home. Higher costs renovating rather than new construction. Engineering required for this site in a floodplain. Radioactive mine tailings, the potential underpass, the impact on the Powerhouse Science Center. The property is now valued at approximately $4 million. But that’s this week.

“Plus, finding temporary housing for our apparatus and crew during construction is a cost that is only attributable to this site, as we need to demo the current building to construct what is needed,” Doughty said. “Any other site would allow us to stay in this building until the new building was completed.”

So much to talk about. It’s smart business, too, that in the MOU, both parties have an out and an agreement to consider remedies to any impasses. We like this rule of engagement that any ending won’t be abrupt.

The city and the fire department will also initiate design ideas and gather public input about conceptual site plans for a redeveloped fire station at River City Hall.

And input is just that. The higher goals are the feasibility and a final decision on the site.

The fire district still has the 9-R building in its back pocket, too. It’s a good position to be in. Of course, the 9-R site presents its own questions and challenges. The future of the Big Picture High School, the impact on traffic and neighbors. Parking spots, Buckley Park, trees and more. Still, if River City Hall doesn’t work out, the fire district has a potential location.

“There are no perfect locations for a fire station in the core of downtown,” Doughty said. “Trying to please everyone is impossible.”

In moving the conversations forward, Durango’s Director of Media and Community Engagement Tom Sluis put it nicely. “The key is to ensure we keep the discussion open so we collectively produce the sausage that’s the most palatable to the most people (to butcher a quote from John Godfrey Saxe),” he said.

Well said, Mr. Sluis. Well said.