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News / Politics / Clark County Politics

Camas City Council backs new fire department HQ location in downtown

Councilors support plan to build facility on downtown site

By Kelly Moyer, Post-Record staff writer
Published: February 3, 2024, 6:06am

CAMAS — The Camas City Council has cleared the way for a new Camas-Washougal Fire Department headquarters station to be built downtown.

Fire Chief Cliff Free described the new fire headquarters’ site selection process to council members and other city leaders Jan. 26.

Last August, the council approved a $148,000 contract with Battle Ground-based Johannson Wing Architects to conduct “the initial efforts to find a suitable site for a new CWFD Station 41 and conduct community outreach as well as preliminary site and station design and eventual bond support services.”

The consultants scrutinized eight potential sites and found five — including one that had “a challenging configuration” — that could accommodate the headquarters program and staff. The consultants also considered possible traffic impacts, topography, environmental factors, land-use designations, whether the sites could accommodate drive-thru bays for fire engines, land ownership challenges and possible site acquisition and development costs.

In the end, Johannson Wing Architects came up with three sites for the headquarters.

Unfortunately, Free said, all three were eventually struck from consideration due to a variety of reasons.

When the fire chief and consultants went back to the original list of sites, they realized Site E — a city-owned property currently occupied by the Camas City Hall Annex, on the site of a former Bank of America branch, could work with some tweaking.

Consultants had discounted the annex site, 528 N.E. Fourth Ave., because it couldn’t accommodate the entire headquarters program and drive-thru vehicle bays. However, the site could work if city officials are willing to close a portion of Northeast Everett Street between Third and Fourth avenues.

“We went back to the list and said, ‘What can we do to make it work for us?’ ” Free told council members. “If we vacate the north half of Everett Street, we could create the space we need.”

Closing the north half of Everett, closest to Fourth Avenue, would still give private property owners access to Everett Street from Northeast Third Avenue and could create a small public “pocket park” along Fourth Avenue.

Fire engines and other vehicles could directly access Northeast Third Avenue and avoid driving along the smaller, more crowded Fourth Avenue. The firehouse would be a two-story facility with crew accommodations on the second floor and operations, administrative offices and public meeting room on the first floor.

“We wanted to look at how we could enhance Fourth,” Free said.

Council members — with the exception of Councilwoman Leslie Lewallen, who was absent — liked the preliminary site plans and said they would approve the partial street vacation along Northeast Everett Street.

“I like it,” Councilwoman Jennifer Senescu said. “I like that we own it … And the vacated traffic is probably (safer) with the engines coming out (onto Third Avenue).”

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Councilman Tim Hein said he thought the fire station would be a good use for the city-owned downtown parcel.

Councilman and Clark-Cowlitz Fire Rescue Chief John Nohr said he liked the idea of the new fire station headquarters having a more welcoming, public-facing side along Northeast Fourth, where the public could have more interactions with firefighters.

“It offers easy access for community events. I like that aspect,” Councilmember Bonnie Carter said.

Free said building the new headquarters is a top priority. A 2021 consultants’ report showed Fire Station 41 would not withstand a major earthquake and should have been replaced by 2024. “We need this (to be built) as soon as possible,” he said.

The chief added that the 2021 report’s projected cost estimate of $12 million to $14 million for the downtown fire station headquarters is “grossly low (due to the rising cost) of materials and construction over the past three years.”

After getting approval from council members Friday, Free said consultants would start the 20 percent design process to get a better understanding of what it will cost to construct the new fire station headquarters.

“This will be a building that serves this area’s emergency needs for the next 50 years,” Free said. “This station is designed to (provide) our emergency service response for downtown Camas.”

Voters will ultimately decide the fate of the CWFD headquarters station, because the city will attempt to finance by issuing general obligation bonds with a 20-year maturity.

Camas City Administrator Doug Quinn said the bond will “allow future residents to share in the costs.”

“The bond is really the only mechanism for the city to build capital facilities,” Quinn added.

Free said he hopes council members will place the bond before voters during the Aug. 6 primary, and that he plans to host an open house within the next few weeks to help explain the concept to the public and answer questions.

If voters approve a bond in August, Free said, construction would likely start in the spring or summer of 2025 and be completed in 2026.