Between the Lines

Between the Lines By David Lias "Show me the money!"

That famed line screamed by Tom Cruise in a popular movie a few years back somehow seems so fitting right now, as Vermillion begins considering the construction of a new fire station in the city.

Alderman Joe Grause, working without the benefit of a professional screenwriter, uttered a remark during Monday's debate about the station that in many ways is just as memorable as the statement of the movie actor.

"If the bank tells me I can buy a $40,000 house and I start looking at $80,000 houses, I'm crazy. Why look at something we can't afford?" Grause said.

"Do we know yet that we can't?" Mayor William Radigan replied.

In many ways, it seems like the council is destined to find itself in that position. On Monday, it set into motion the continuation of the development of plans for a new fire station.

But there's no guarantee that the result of this process will be something that the city can afford.

So far, the best cost estimates that architects have offered the city is $1.2 million for a new building.

There's just one problem. Vermillion doesn't have $1.2 million to spend. Without a CDBG grant, about the best it can afford is a $1 million project, funded from city sales tax dollars.

Radigan, who has a long association with the Vermillion Fire Department, strongly believes that the city's 75-year-old fire station has grown inadequate.

During Monday's city council meeting, he made a motion calling for the council to ask architects to complete design work on a new fire station.

"The whole intent of my motion is to get a design so that the nine of us can sit here and decide what we are going to do," Radigan said. "We can sit here and talk about whether we're going to subtract part of the building, whether we're going to add another part of the building, whether we're going to leave the concrete from one side of the building � we can talk about all of those things but to me we've got to get a design so we can get some close estimates as to what each of these things are going to cost before we can move ahead with this building."

Radigan added that the city was going to take another shot at trying to get a $200,000 Community Development Block Grant from the state.

"If we can't (get the grant), then you're going to have to sit here and make the decision if we build this building or not," Radigan said. "And I'm not much in favor of letting the fact that we don't get a grant kill this building, to be honest with you. I think we can go somewhere and get the money, or make some (cost) adjustments."

Vermillion, Radigan said, needs a new fire hall that will have a life of from 40 to 75 years.

"It's time we move on it. We can sit here and imagine what's going to happen," he said. "I think we need a design that shows us what we are talking about."

There is no doubt that Radigan has the best interests of the city at heart. He wants to see the volunteer fire department's and ambulance department's vehicles and equipment housed properly.

We can't help but question, however, if his suggestion is necessarily the right approach for the city to take.

He wants RML Architects of Sioux City, IA to develop plans and cost estimates. If the project is too expensive, he then wants the city council to work with the architect to change the design until a workable plan is finally reached.

Some aspects of this idea are troubling. Bob Lee of RML, when asked earlier this year about the cost savings the city could experience by erecting a steel building rather than a masonry structure, responded that a steel building wouldn't be feasible.

It would have been nice, though, if he would have at least attempted such a design option.

It also would be interesting to hear the response of someone involved in constructing steel structures. Who knows? There may be a simple, more affordable building alternative for the city to consider.

The city council's entire approach to this project needs to be adjusted. The architect was hired for his expertise. Aldermen should first agree what the city can afford. They then should simply ask the architect to design a structure that won't break Vermillion's budget.

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