Lebanon plans to put temporary fire station near middle school

By PATRICK ADRIAN

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 03-16-2024 6:00 PM

LEBANON — The city’s downtown fire station will be packing up and moving — temporarily — during the construction of a new building to replace its aging facility on South Park Street.

On Monday, the Planning Board will hear a plan from the Fire Department to build a temporary fire station on city-owned land at 198 Dartmouth College Highway to house personnel, equipment and apparatus during the completion of a $22.3 million project to replace the current station. The replacement project will involve demolishing the existing fire station and building a new facility in the same location that meets modern operating and safety standards.

Construction of the new fire station is expected to begin in the fall and take 18 months to complete. In the meantime, fire crews need a place to call home.

While public hearings for government land use projects are optional, city administrators felt that a hearing for the temporary fire station would provide an opportunity to gather constructive feedback from community members and to educate the public about the plan, said Senior Planning and Zoning Administrator Tim Corwin.

“The whole idea of a public hearing is to engage community members and to leverage the experiences of the community” to help inform the design and implementation of a project, Corwin said in a phone interview. “There may be public input that might be valuable to the design team.”

The selected site is a 21-acre parcel of city land that currently houses the Department of Public Works facilities and the Veterans Memorial Pool. The property is located across the road from Lebanon Middle School, as well as a residential neighborhood.

The temporary station will include the construction of a 5,800-square-foot garage with four bays and the use of three trailers to serve as living quarters for the firefighters and administrative offices.

The relocation will have minimal impact on the department’s response time to homes and properties in its service area, Fire Chief Jim Wheatley said in a phone interview.

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“Moving to the temporary site will increase our response times within a minute to some (neighborhoods) but still keeps us within our (typical) response times to our (other neighborhoods) in our service area,” Wheatley said.

The department tries to have a fire engine with four personnel on scene of a fire within four minutes or less to meet the standards of the National Fire Protection Association, Wheatley said.

The city expects to start constructing the temporary site, including the garage and road paving, within the next 60 days and to have it ready to occupy in August or September, City Manager Shaun Mulholland said in an email.

The temporary fire station constitutes a “government land use” and is exempt from local planning or zoning regulations, according to state RSA 674:54, a land use law. The Planning Board may hold a public hearing to discuss the project, though any feedback from board members is solely advisory and non-binding. The city project must still comply with the state building code and other permitting regulations, the law states.

City administrators felt it particularly important to hear from property abutters about the temporary fire station, as there are several residential homes surrounding the city land, Corwin said. Lebanon Middle School also is located across the road from the property.

Wheatley said the presentation on Monday will include the department’s plan for managing traffic safety, particularly during arrival and departure times at the Middle School.

The project is necessary because the existing downtown station, also known as Central Fire Station or Station 1, was built in 1954 and does not comply with modern industry standards or the Americans with Disabilities Act.

A 2019 study of the city’s public safety buildings found that both city fire stations — including the West Lebanon station on Main Street — lack space to properly maintain and store firefighter equipment. The facilities also do not protect the firefighters’ living quarters from vehicle fumes that come up from the apparatus floor and lack an isolated decontamination area to safely clean firefighter clothing and equipment of carcinogenic substances that are brought into the station.

In addition to the downtown project, the department also hopes to build a new fire station in West Lebanon, but that project has been delayed for several years due to costs. City administrators also need to find a new property for the West Lebanon fire station because the existing lot is too small to accommodate an expansion.

The Planning Board will hold the public hearing on Monday, March 18 at City Hall at 6:30 p.m.

Patrick Adrian may be reached at padrian@vnews.com or 603-727-3216.