FORTVILLE — Vernon Township leaders have cut a check for $1.6 million to buy land on the county’s northwest side, ending their search for a new home for its volunteer fire department.
The township board has decided to construct a new fire station, vacating a 10-bay garage at the back of the Fortville Municipal Building and relocating to the western edge of Fortville’s town limits.
The three-member board that oversees the township’s finances recently voted to take $1.6 million from its savings accounts to purchase 10.7 acres of land at 600 Vitality Drive in Fortville, as well as an 8,700-square-foot building that sits on the property, township trustee Jim Nolte said.
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The township soon will break ground there on a new fire station, Nolte said. The board currently is working with a Fort Wayne-based architectural firm to finalize designs for the building, he said.
Since 2006, the township’s volunteer fire department has served the more than 11,000 residents that call Fortville and McCordsville home. The department’s 45 volunteer firefighters make emergency runs out of two fire departments, one in the heart of each municipality.
But midway through 2016, the Fortville Town Council decided to stop renting out the 10-bay garage in its municipal building in 2018, which the township currently uses for its Fortville fire station.
Fortville officials say they will need the additional square footage in their municipal building to create more office space.
The announcement sent Vernon Township scrambling to find a new location for its Fortville fire station.
Roughly seven months ago, its leaders spent $500,000 to buy a building at 700 W. Broadway St.
The little brick structure had for years housed a private ambulance company. And as it stands now, it’s too small for a fire station, but the township made preliminary plans to expand the building to fit its needs.
That purchase was finalized in March, Nolte said; but another real estate option presented itself almost immediately after the ink had dried, and it sat right in the backyard of the building the township had just acquired.
The land and building at 600 Vitalilty Drive is located only a few yards from building at 700 W. Broadway St. It once housed Hancock Health clinic offices, Nolte said. Its $1.6 million price tag for a spacious plot of land and a like-new building was a great deal, he said.
The township’s leaders have yet to decide what to do with the pair of buildings they now own but said they’ll consider those buildings for other township needs. They are, however, moving forward quickly with their fire station construction plans. Nolte hopes to break ground on the project early next year.
The township has hired the Fort Wayne architectural firm Kelty Tappy Design Inc. to help finalize the designs for the fire station, and representatives from the company have been visiting Fortville regularly to share their progress and gain insight from local stakeholders, including area firefighters.
Jeff Tappy, vice president of the company, said his firm isn’t typically tapped to design fire departments, but that makes the job in Vernon Township all the more unique and an exciting opportunity for the team involved.
The firm thinks it’s important to gather opinions about a building’s design from the people who will use it most, Tappy said. He and members of his team came to Fortville recently to talk with a few of Vernon Township’s volunteer firefighters as well as several full-time firefighters from neighboring departments.
Scott Cushman and Brendan Hartnett are Vernon Township residents and captains with the Indianapolis Fire Department. They spent nearly two hours at a recent meeting offering insight and telling the architects what they wished their fire stations had.
Cushman and Hartnett said the Indianapolis fire stations they work out of were clearly built for what their department needed at the time they were constructed; the designs didn’t take into account the future, the growth and change that might come.
So, they’re each stuck trying to squeeze 10 men into a dormitory built for four while making accommodations for the female firefighters their former leaders hadn’t considered might one day join the force.
These are things Vernon Township leaders now have the opportunity to plan for, Hartnett said.
“It’s everything they need now plus what they’ll need later,” he said.