IFD Station 2 Rendering.jpg

On July 19 members of the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency (IURA) and other interested parties toured Collegetown’s past and future by exploring the existing Fire Station No. 2 and the site of its proposed replacement.

For more than half a century Fire Station No. 2 has been a fixture at 309 College Avenue, watching over Collegetown as it grew from a neighborhood of small shops and quaint modest homes to an almost urban corridor of modern high-rise housing and national chain stores.

The City of Ithaca, Cornell University, and the Ithaca Fire Department have known for close to a decade that No. 2 would need renovation or replacement to keep pace with the development taking place all around it.

The choice between renovation or replacement seemed, in the end, to be a simple one. Given that No. 2 is in a cramped, populous area, and given the way the station is structured, the latter was the only real option.

The existing fire station’s current infrastructure is outdated. Renovating it would mean almost complete demolition, which would leave a disastrous carbon footprint and cost an estimated $1.5 million. Renovation would also mean staff displacement and potential delays in responding to emergencies in the area. Therefore, the City ultimately decided to work together with the IURA in order to conduct a sale of the existing fire station and the purchase of land to construct a new building.

Total estimated costs for a new station run around $9 million, but over $5 million of that will be covered by the sale of the existing fire station. The City had also applied for and received a $1 million grant from New York State in 2014, which will also be applied to the new station. The resulting net bill to the City of about $3 million represents $1.5 million more than renovation would have cost, with none of the disruptions to the environment or protective services. There are also hopes that Cornell and the Town of Ithaca may help pick up some of the cost.

“None of [the existing station is] green. It’s not insulated well, and it’s actually too narrow to do renovation to make it greener, and we can’t insulate the building because it’s constructed of a certain kind of material that we can’t do anything with. Obviously, the goal with the new station is to make it greener,” City of Ithaca Fire Department Fire Chief Tom Parsons said. A new “green” fire station would also demonstrate the City of Ithaca’s commitment to its Green New Deal, a policy adopted in 2019 to tackle climate change.

The new building’s design would also open up more opportunities for firefighter training. “We have some additional space that we can use to do training within the building, some training that we’re not able to do in certain outdoor environments. Like we can do some confined space training. We have a mezzanine where we can build a manhole and we can train like we’re going into a tunnel. Sometimes people get injured, so we need to be able to rescue people out of those situations. We also have to do some ropework, just practicing getting over edges at about 20 feet high. So it’s not going to be a Swiss Army Knife, but there’ll be multiple functions that we could accomplish at the [new] station,” Parsons said.

However, those functions will not include selling pizza, despite the hopes of those who still miss the offerings of The Nines, the bar/restaurant that was located in the historic former Ithaca Fire Station No. 9, that neighbored the existing Fire Station No. 2.

Before a sale of No. 2 can be conducted, the proposed location at the corner of Elmwood Avenue and Dryden Road needs to be approved. That location is currently occupied by two adjacent student rental houses at 403 Elmwood Avenue and 408 Dryden Road.

“This is all proposed. The agency is looking at this [land] and asking for the public to comment on if there are any issues, and then this community will make a recommendation to the IURA. Then the IURA will make a recommendation to the Common Council, and the Common Council will make the final decision. There’s a process involved in this, and it gives the public the opportunity to be involved in the situation,” Nels Bohn, Director of Community Development at IURA, said.

Future feedback is likely to center on the impact the fire station will have on what is a more residential area that that of the existing fire station, and how fire and rescue vehicles will navigate the notoriously crowded Collegetown roads.

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