Editor's note: This is the third in a series of stories looking at the projects that would benefit from the increase in local sales tax revenue if voters approved a .30 cent increase in November.
Four acres in a large swath of untouched land at the intersection of Jennie Barker Road and Schulman Avenue might find some use if local officials get their way.
The stretch of land directly behind one of the large shopping complexes on Schulman just down the road from the Heritage Hotel and the Parrot Cove Water Park has been targeted for development of a third fire station, with construction slated to start in 2020 and a completion date in 2025.
However, all of that depends on passage of a countywide sales tax proposal that will appear on the November ballot. The .3-percent, or .30-cent, sales tax hike would affect all of Finney County and fund four major projects that have long been on the list of things to do for Garden City and Finney County officials.
Sales tax proposal
In late June, a series of city projects were introduced that would be funded by a .25-cent citywide sales tax hike. That quickly turned into an interlocal agreement between the city and county, and in July the beginnings of a countywide sales tax hike of .30 cents was put forward for a public vote.
Projects local officials have targeted for financing from the sales tax revenue include urbanized improvements to a section of Jennie Barker Road approximate to the intersection of Kansas Highway 156; ongoing improvements to Lee Richardson Zoo; construction and operation of an 11,068-quare-foot indoor shooting range intended for use by local law enforcement and the public; and construction, operation and maintenance of a third 15,061-square-foot fire station with additional storage mezzanines totaling 3,582 square feet for use by the fire department, Garden City Police Department and county EMS.
The sales tax hike, if passed, would take effect April 1, 2018, and sunset after 15 years. The tax increase would yield approximately $2.15 million in annual revenues, according to City Finance Director Melinda Hitz.
All together, the projects will cost, without operating cost expenses included, approximately $11,080,000, based on a tally of expenses presented by city and county officials.
The new station will also have three equipment bays, additional sleeping quarters, a training area and a fitness room.
Garden City Fire Chief Allen Shelton said the station would require a minimum of 15 new employees from the fire department to keep five people on duty at all times and maintain operations, with an annual cost between $800,000 and $1 million.
“We would increase the size of the department by 15 people by building this station, and also additional apparatuses would be purchased for this station — an aerial apparatus, a heavy rescue truck and other pieces of equipment,” he said.
For design and construction, plus fire apparatuses, the total cost of the facility is somewhere around $6.25 million, according to Hitz.
The station would be located on land already purchased by the city in 1998, and a rendering of the facility’s design was commissioned in 2002, according to the architect, Bruce Glass. Fifteen years later, the fire station might have a chance for construction in 2020 if local residents vote for the sales tax.
A growing need
As time goes on, the area continues to develop and the population of Garden City continues to grow. For that reason, Shelton said, the need for a third fire station will only become more pressing.
“Over the last several years on the east side of the city, we continue to have growth,” he said. “And of course, here in the last few years, we’ve seen a significant amount of continued growth with industry and commercial, as well as residential."
That growth includes but is not limited to the Dairy Farmers of America plant, Windriver Grain, the Heritage Hotel, Parrot Cove Water Park, expansive shopping centers, and, still to come, a massive sports complex slated for construction within a boundary comprising the city’s STAR Bond area encompassing 312 acres. That area includes the Tangeman Sports Complex northeast of Schulman Crossing, spanning east of the shopping center to Jennie Barker Road, right next to the location designated for construction of the third fire station.
According to the Finney County Economic Development Corp., the sports complex itself will be built just east of the water park and the Heritage Hotel, and the current proposed concept includes a two-rink ice arena, a world food truck plaza, a central plaza, a sporting stadium with a private sports bar located on a mezzanine connected to the stands, and a constellation of fields intended for a range of different sporting activities, including but not limited to rugby, soccer and lacrosse. The concept also includes a building to house a privately run trampoline park and a field house for general use.
The central fire station is located in the 300 block of Ninth Street right beside the City Administrative Center and the Law Enforcement Center. A second, smaller fire station known as the Labrador Station is located in the 1600 block of Mary Street.
Shelton said construction of a third station at the intersection of Jennie Barker Road and Schulman Avenue would create a triangulation that could deliver optimal service to the city, accommodating existing and future needs.
Kent Greene of Emergency Services Consulting International seems to agree. A study commissioned by the Garden City Commission in May 2014 that Greene completed found that a third fire station on the east side of town would provide better fire protection in an area experiencing high growth.
Shelton said the new facility would enable the fire department to “deploy manpower and equipment where we need it in a response time that works for that side of the city.”
“As the city continues to grow to the east, our response time continues to increase because of the traffic and everything we have between us and the east side of the city,” Shelton said, speaking from the vantage point of the central station.
Shelton said the new station might be somewhat larger than the central fire station to compensate for the added presence of police and EMS. The station will sleep 10 people and accommodate one of two county EMS teams.
Finney County EMS Director Skylar Swords said the second EMS location would distribute calls more efficiently between the two teams. The only EMS facility currently is located in the 800 block of Mary Street toward the northern end of town.
With a new southeastern vantage point, Swords said, EMS could more effectively respond to calls in East Garden Village and navigate to Garden City Regional Airport for medical flight transfers.
“That is a significant travel time for us to respond to from just this one station,” Swords said. “So just due to traffic and especially depending on the time of day, we can have some extended response times to those areas. So by having a station there, that location will help us to have a quicker response time to places like East Garden Village to Schulman Crossing and to other locations there in that southeast part of the community.”
According to Swords, the annual average of calls EMS receives has increased from around 2,700 to roughly 3,000 in recent years. He added that while the calls have not been proportionally greater in the area where the new fire station would be located, the increase in shopping centers and the corresponding increase of population density in that area could potentially lead to more calls.
Swords said he already has all the personnel, equipment and ambulances he would need for a dispersed, seamless transition to the new location.
“I think it’s going to provide us with a more efficient way to run our service,” he said. “We’ll be better able to respond quickly to those areas. We’ll be able to have a truck that can respond to a call in the northeast part of town where we are right now, and then also have a truck that can respond quickly to the southeast part of town. We’re really looking forward to being able to just be more efficient with the staff and equipment that we currently have.”
Benefit for police
Garden City Police Chief Michael Utz said an additional fire station on the southeastern side of town would assist police with injured persons and fire scenes by giving EMS and firefighters a more direct route to the scene and allowing police officers to do their part of the job in a more timely manner.
He said it also would serve as an outpost allowing some police officers to remain within or close to their assigned patrol districts on that side of town, even when they need to pick up equipment, fill out paperwork, interview victims or witnesses, file traffic reports or talk with members of the community.
“There are times when officers may need supplies: batteries, flashlights, equipment for their cars or something like that,” Utz said. “It would give us another office location to keep that at so that the officers assigned on the east or northeast part of the city don’t have to drive all the way to the west side of the city to change out equipment or replace equipment during their shift.”
Shelton noted that the third station offers a vantage point from which first responders could travel in virtually any direction via Highway 156, Mary Street and U.S. Highway 50.
“The growth has already started,” he said. “I see the continued growth of Garden City. I’ve been here for a long time. I’ve served as fire chief for the past 35 years. I’ve seen nothing but growth. We’re looking at the future. We’re looking at today, but we’re also looking at the future. The future growth of the city is definitely going to need this station.”