The future of Arlington’s Fire Station #8 is headed back to the County Board, after a task force delivered a 100-plus-page report that arrived at a “clear consensus” – but not unanimity – that the station be rebuilt on the parcel it currently occupies.
The task force’s report, delivered in time to meet the panel’s May 31 deadline, calls for a modern, four-bay station to be constructed where the 55-year-old existing facility stands on Lee Highway.
“Two key factors drove the decision – service-demand locations, now and in the future, and population,” the task force concluded. “A significant factor in reaching the consensus position on location was that the station be placed where emergency-response services are most needed.”
The final vote to approve the report was unanimous, but an earlier vote on where to put a new station split, with eight task-force members supporting the existing site, two preferring the fire department’s choice of 26th Street North and Old Dominion Drive, and two abstaining.
(The task-force report is available on the Web site at https://projects.arlingtonva.us/projects/fire-station-8-task-force/.)
Building a new fire station on the existing site would not cost significantly more than the estimated $14 million for a station on Old Dominion, but would require construction – at a cost of several million dollars – of a temporary station to be used for the duration of construction. Additional funds will be needed to relocate a fueling facility currently located on the site.
“The long-term benefits justify the additional costs,” concluded the report of the task force, which had been chaired by former School Board member Noah Simon.
With the ball back in their court, County Board members will have to address the same competing priorities that were dealt with by the task force.
Current plans call for including funds to design the new station (wherever it is located) on the 2016 public-safety bond set to go to voters in November, with construction funds included in a 2018 bond.
The task force was set up by County Board members last year after residents rebelled against the proposal to move the station 0.6 miles northeast to the Old Dominion site. Many residents of the Halls Hill neighborhood, where the station currently is located, did not want it to leave, and residents around the proposed location were not entirely thrilled at the prospect of it coming to their midst.
Fire officials say moving the station north to Old Dominion would help reduce long response times to single-family neighborhoods in the far-north reaches of Arlington. Critics of the proposal said, and the final report concluded, that the greater good was served by keeping the area on Lee Highway, which has the most density of Station #8’s service area and is likely to see significant redevelopment in coming years.
“It is most important for the fire station to be located where it can do the most good,” the report notes.
A majority on the task force supported a more expensive four-bay station over an alternative three-bay option, saying it will be needed in the long run. The current station has two bays.
The panel considered, and ultimately rejected as too costly, the idea of also building a mini-station to serve the far northwest corner of the county. Arlington fire officials have said there may be interest at a later date in partnering with Fairfax County on a joint-use facility in the vicinity, but have no timetable to discuss it.