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How much is too much? Sycamore fire station fixes estimated at $1.6M

SYCAMORE – The current tenant of Sycamore’s first municipal building might be looking to leave.

After learning it could cost
$1.6 million to make all of the necessary repairs to Fire Station No. 1, the city of Sycamore has begun a conversation about the future of the building. Although it is currently the busier of the city’s two fire stations, its location poses challenges for the crews and the neighborhood, Fire Chief Peter Polarek said.

The city commissioned an audit to examine the building and identify the necessary capital improvements. Formerly the Sycamore Municipal Building, the station was built in 1957 and housed City Hall and the police and fire departments.

In 2003, City Hall moved downtown, and in 2011, the police department received its own building down the street.

“We wanted to map out our options,” Polarek said.

The audit was done in the fall by Kluber Architects + Engineers of Batavia, and it identified and prioritized work the building would need done.

Work that is needed immediately, according to the audit, would cost about $113,000 and includes items such as repairs to exterior walls, plumbing and site improvements such as the front stairs of the building.

Because the station is downtown and situated so close to DeKalb Avenue, it faces some challenges.

“If we were going to lay out and pick a location for a new firehouse now, it would not be here,” Polarek said. “Sixty years ago that might have been a good choice, but since then, things have evolved a little.”

Polarek described challenges such as backing up a fire engine in traffic on a busy DeKalb Avenue, and the necessity of paying more for custom-made fire engines to fit the shorter bay doors. Last year, it cost an extra $30,000 in customization on a $410,000 truck to ensure that it would fit in the station.

Kluber representative Chris Hansen showed the City Council on Wednesday photos taken of the firehouse. In two locations, holes in the building allow air to enter directly into the area above ceilings, including in the living quarters of the station. The tar and gravel roof is reaching the end of its useful life. An aesthetic move made years ago has shortened the life of the windows, Hansen said.

“A number of years ago, there was a decision made to paint the actual glass panels, and this has actually accelerated the deterioration of them,” Hansen said.

The paint caused a heat build up on the glass, and the temperature difference caused the glass to crack, he said.

Other photos showed calcification and mineral buildup on pipe valves used for the building’s heating system.

Hansen noted that the boiler should be replaced – and showed a photo of the current boiler wrapped with insulation that he said is most likely asbestos – but he said the pipes needed to be replaced first.

“We believe if you simply replace the boiler and reutilize that existing pipe, you’ll do nothing but create extensive leaks throughout the facility because the newer boiler will run at a higher pressure,” Hansen said.

Not all of the $1.6 million would need to be spent immediately, but the audit said the fixes need to be made in the next 10 years. The boiler and piping, for example, are listed as Priority 2, meaning the repairs should be made in the next five years. Hansen noted that many of the repairs are to the building’s systems and not the structure itself because it was made well.

“You do have a good building,” he said. “This number might be shocking to a few people, but the bones of this building are extremely stable.”

The $1.6 million price tag includes an estimated 3 percent inflation in prices.

Polarek said the next step is to have conversations with city staff and the council to determine how to proceed, whether the fire department is staying, and for how long.

“We need to discuss how much is too much,” Polarek said.

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