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Indiana firefighters consider relocating borough station

by on February 27, 2014 11:00 AM

The Indiana Fire Association is proposing to move from its longtime home in the Indiana Borough building to a new station to be constructed along Philadelphia Street.

Rumors have been circulating recently that the fire association was considering such a move, and according to President Bill Simmons, that is, in fact, the case. He said the fire association has placed an offer on a site at Fifth and Philadelphia streets and will look to build a new station there.

But the association has not yet closed on the property, something that is to take place within the next 90 days, Simmons said. Therefore, it is too soon to talk about the specifics of the proposed project, he said.

“It’s very, very early at this point,” he said, stressing that while the fire association intends to make a move, it isn’t yet a sure thing, especially as the association doesn’t yet have a design for a new station or the necessary approvals for it.

The IFA is buying the property from S&T Bank, for which Simmons is a vice president in its wealth management group. The property is currently home to the Indiana office of the bank’s Evergreen Insurance business. The bank will be relocating staff at that office to its Wayne Avenue location.

Bank spokesman Rob Jorgenson said the decision to put the property on the market was made as part of a routine review of its facilities.

Should the IFA close on the deal, it will look to demolish the building and erect something new.

Simmons declined to reveal the size of the association’s offer on the property. Nevertheless, it’s likely to represent a sizable investment for the nonprofit association. Simmons said the plan is to pay for the project through a mix of fundraising and state grants it will seek.

The IFA does not pay rent for its space in the borough building, and the borough picks up the tab for the utilities.

The borough and the fire association have been longtime neighbors, having shared space in the borough building since it opened in 1975. As time has gone by and divisions within borough operations have expanded, space has become tighter.

A move would seem to address that problem, plus allow the association to expand the student residential program it has at its White Township station. Through that program, the association provides IUP students with a free place to live in exchange for their service to the association.

The program has proven to be successful and has helped bolster the association’s ranks in a time of declining volunteerism, officials have said.

The department had been looking to build apartments in the borough building as far back as 2009. It even had reached a handshake agreement with borough council to acquire its side of the building for $1. The deal would have facilitated construction of the apartments; however, the two organizations were never able to close on it.

“We tried for many months to work out what became a very extensive and complicated sales agreement between the borough and fire department. We just couldn’t come to terms with several issues, one big one being to buy it back from the fire department if they ever wanted to abandon it,” said council President Nancy Jones. “So we were not surprised to hear that the fire department was looking and perhaps moving.”

She said that if the fire department does ultimately leave, it wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing, given that space inside the building is at a premium.  

“Our police side is cramped without enough storage for evidence. Additionally, (council chambers) is not very convenient for the public, so perhaps we could move it for easier accessibility,” she said.  

Sam Kusic is a staff writer for The Indiana Gazette.
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