Strange, circular fire station emerges in Kamas, a design that is saving the South Summit Fire District millions
Driving north out of Kamas on S.R. 32, a construction site appears on the right before High Star Ranch and a strange circular building emerges, having taken shape over the summer and through the fall.
When it’s finished — perhaps in early spring — it’ll be the new home of the South Summit Fire District. And while district leaders acknowledge they’ve gotten more than a few comments about the building’s unusual appearance, they say the novel construction approach comes with numerous benefits, including more overall square footage, hardiness and energy efficiency.
The biggest benefit, though, is its cost: At $2.2 million, the project costs a fraction of the other bids the district received.
It will replace the Kamas Fire Station at the corner of Main Street and Center Street, which has been around since the 1950s, said South Summit Fire Commission Chair Kent Leavitt.
“It’s falling down around our ears — have to patch it back together almost daily,” he said. “(The new station is) going to make it so we can keep doing what we’re doing, only be way more efficient (and) project out at least 50 years or more.”
The station, under construction at 102 Thorn Creek Drive in Kamas, will feature a two-story, 13,000-square-foot dome with concrete walls more than a foot thick and a tower for an entryway. It’s more than triple the size of the building it’s replacing. While the shape is generally circular, it does have corners that allow for garage doors and a sort of flat front.
There will be enough room for the seven vehicles the district keeps in Kamas and much more space for training and administrative work. Currently, four employees who evaluate building permits and sprinkler systems share one computer in a room in the Oakley station.
South Summit Fire Chief Scott Anderson said the innovative construction method initially involved bringing in prefabricated forms he described as akin to Legos and using them to quickly create the structure of the building. The forms are reinforced with steel and concrete and act as an insulating layer.
The ceiling is a sort of papier-mache project, as a giant balloon-like membrane is inflated and a substance called shotcrete is sprayed onto it, with layers of insulation and rebar added for strength.
When it’s finished, the building’s shape and thick walls will harden it against natural disasters like earthquakes and even nuclear fallout, Anderson said, providing emergency shelter for the community. It will maintain its interior temperature well, he said, dramatically cutting energy costs.
A similar fire station in Menan, Idaho, for example, saw energy costs fall compared to the station it replaced, even though the new one was four times larger, he said.
Construction began in early July and is expected to last through March. The building is taking shape, but much remains to do on the inside, like spraying additional layers of shotcrete and working to tie in utilities like electricity, water and communications.
The district had an original budget of $2 million for the new station, and the other bids the district received were in the range of $8-$14 million, the chief said.
Anderson said he’s taken some criticism because of the building’s shape, but that’s to be expected with a nontraditional design. He thinks it’s ultimately going to be “softer on the eyes” than the average station.
“As you approach a bigger square building, you’re just hit with massive wall/roof structure,” Anderson said. “With it being round, it’s kind of like walking in the woods — you keep going around the corner and it keeps going and going.”
The district is paying for the station with the tax increase it passed last year, which residents are seeing on property tax bills for the first time this fall. The rate more than doubled, boosting the district’s annual budget from $243,000 to $626,000, Leavitt said.
In addition to the new station, the district has used the tax increase to implement a monthly stipend for its volunteer firefighters. The payout depends on a person’s certifications and experience, but Anderson said it averages about $600 per month. The district tries to keep about 30 firefighters trained and active, which would yield about a $215,000 annual cost for the program.
Leavitt said it’s getting harder to find volunteers, chalking it up to the demands of the modern world.
“People are busy, they’ve got things to do and they’ve not got as much time,” he said. “Volunteer fire is a very big commitment.”
The demands on the district have grown, too. Anderson said last year was a record year for calls — right around 400 — and that it’s been growing steadily year over year.
“We’ve been getting a few more calls each year since the beginning of time,” he said, adding that they received only about 10 more calls last year than in the previous year.
He said there are more people than ever in the Kamas Valley, which means more smoke detectors that go off and more people burning brush piles. He also wondered whether people are slightly less self-reliant these days
“People used to deal with things — they would just deal with them on their own, never call for help,” Anderson said.
The district has two other stations — one in Woodland and one in Oakley. As the Kamas Valley continues to grow and demand increases on the district’s firefighters, it’s possible the district will grow to full-time service. That would require staffing 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, something that would cost orders of magnitude more than the district’s budget. But the new fire station is built to handle that type of expansion, with places for firefighters to sleep and cook meals on-site.
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