Original Article from www.telegraphherald.com by Benjamin Fisher April 12, 2022
Photo by Stephen Gassman
PLATTEVILLE, Wis. — U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., joined state and local leaders on Monday for a tour of the Platteville fire station, the replacement of which recently received a $7 million appropriation from Congress.
Guiding visitors through the maze of fire engines — parked creatively, with no space to spare — Fire Chief Ryan Simmons had little trouble exhibiting the need for a new station.
“As you can see, we have lots of trucks — almost like Tetris — crammed in here, where you’ve got to plot a path to get around,” he said.
Simmons told Baldwin that even getting trucks into the station, built in 1964, was a chore in itself.
“We can right now do a maximum of a 9-foot, 7-inch truck to fit in the station,” he said. “But a typical truck you buy are a minimum of 10 feet, 7 inches. So every truck we buy, the manufacturer has to customize. We pay extra every time to buy a truck to have it redesigned.”
City of Platteville leaders expect to spend $8 million to $13 million to construct a new station spanning 28,000 to 32,000 square feet at the site of O.E. Gray Community Learning Center, 155 W. Lewis St.
The $7 million federal award was requested by U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, D-Wis., who was unable to attend Monday’s event. Baldwin helped the award gain approval as a member of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee, where she chairs the Subcommittee on Rural Development.
“Here, we’re talking about a facility in the community that benefits the entire community,” Baldwin told reporters after the event in Platteville. “It seems to have stood the test of time but won’t meet all their needs forever. What an opportunity to work with the leaders of this community to recognize the need for a new facility.”
Wisconsin Sen. Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green, attended the event and said he had been hearing about the city’s need for a new station for more than 20 years.
“This isn’t something that has sprung up on us,” he said. “This has been a need for a long time.”
Platteville Common Council President Barbara Daus said the $7 million has made the new station seem possible at long last.
“We’ve been talking about a new fire station for a long time,” she said. “People thought we were just talking about a fire station. Simply put, the $7 million appropriation has people saying, ‘I think they’re doing more than talking. I think they’re moving now.’”
The city is fielding bids from architects to design the new station. As those come in, local leaders are planning what the new station will need to last for 50 years, as the current station has. That means examining trends in fire service, including the growing difficulties that volunteer departments such as the one in Platteville face in recruiting and retaining volunteers.
“This has to be a 50-year fire station. It can’t be a five-year fire station,” Daus said. “We are looking at a kind of facility that has rooms in it so if we ever had to go to a paid fire department, we would have a station where that is part of it.”
Simmons said it was good to have city leaders with the foresight to consider some of those possibilities. He also said planning the new station is an opportunity to add services and capabilities that Platteville has never had before.
“We’re looking to partner with (Southwest Wisconsin Technical College) to have a mini training facility on the property as well, similar to what they have in Fennimore, so we can host some of those classes regionally so departments in this part of the county don’t have to drive all the way to Fennimore,” Simmons said.
Platteville City Manager Adam Ruechel said another part of planning includes finding a new home for the services and organizations housed in O.E. Gray Community Learning Center.
“The main site where we would put it does have a lot of organizations in it,” he said. “It houses our senior center. We have Head Start running out of there. One of the things we’re looking at is what happens to those organizations.”
Ruechel said that as long as fundraising for the remaining costs for the new station comes together, the city could break ground in 2024.
The stop in Platteville was one of several Baldwin is making in southwest Wisconsin to highlight federal funding impacts on local institutions.
Later on Monday, she was headed to Southwest Tech to learn about how American Rescue Plan Act funding is being used for several programs tied to addressing workforce needs.
Today, Baldwin is scheduled to visit the future site of Memorial Hospital of Lafayette County in Darlington. The hospital project received $4 million in the federal appropriations bill. The 75,000-square-foot facility will be built on a 36-acre site south of Darlington at a total cost of nearly $51.5 million. Construction is expected to begin in February, with a summer 2024 completion date.