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Public safety projects set to go

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Construction planned this year for ambulance, fire apparatus buildings

by Tom Coombe

Two major public safety projects, both fueled by a federal appropriation, are on track to move forward later this year.

A public hearing Tuesday night at City Hall marked the next step in plans to renovate and add to the ambulance garage on Central Avenue, and to build a fire apparatus building near the old city garage.

The projects are the result of a $1.3 million federal award announced in late-2022, and plans call for bids to go out this year with construction underway this summer, according to city clerk-treasurer and operations director Harold Langowski.

Langowski briefed council members about the progress and what led up this week’s hearing.

“We were fortunate to get an award of $1.3 million in federal funds for ambulance and fire apparatus and first responder buildings,” said Langowski. “We’ve had a long list of requirements we need to complete.  We’ve completed the first phase and we’re now in phase two and we are required to have a public hearing on what the overall project scope is.”

The first part of the project involves improving the ambulance building purchased in 2022 by the city, together with Morse and Fall Lake townships and the city of Winton.

Since then, the building at the corner of Central Avenue and Camp Street, the former Gene’s Custom Auto Body garage, has been home to the Ely Area Ambulance Service.

The building serves as a garage for the ambulances and a home for ambulance personnel waiting for calls.

The project calls for about $100,000 of interior space renovations and $40,000 in exterior remodeling.

Part of the space will be turned into a training room along with shower and laundry facilities, and bringing the building up to code compliance.

The existing building will be used for staff housing, training and some equipment storage.

The major component of the project is the construction of an additional building on the property for storage of the ambulance, with office space attached.

About $650,000 is set aside in total for the ambulance project while the remaining $650,000 is devoted to the construction of a 60-by-60-foot facility that will house newer, larger equipment that is used by the Ely Fire Department.

The existing fire garage at Ely’s City Hall is beyond its capacity an additional space is needed to store equipment and vehicles.

City officials say the existing threats of wildfire means the city has wildland firefighting equipment, now stored in makeshift facilities, that require storage space.

Some fire equipment is now housed in the old city garage, which has a leaking roof and slated for future demolition.

The project also meshes with plans for future development on Ely’s west end including potential workforce housing.

Ely firefighter Michael Smith spoke to the council in support of the project.

“Starting with the fire apparatus building, for us having safe accessible storage for apparatus, vehicles, trucks and equipment is very important,” he said.

Council member Adam Bisbee questioned if the ambulance building renovation and additions would conflict with the possibility that Ely-Bloomenson Community Hospital might regain ownership or operation of the ambulance service.

Lagnowski said “they are aware of the facility, the location the room it provides.”

He called any change to hospital operation as “in very preliminary discussions to move to a different model,” and that the hospital could utilize the existing garage.

One other area citizen, Larry Polyner, also spoke at the public hearing.

He said he supported the selection of the Central Avenue location for the ambulance garage, but said “additional space for another garage seems to be a tremendous waste of money.”

Polyner said the ambulance service could utilize existing meeting rooms at the joint public works facility on Ely’s east end.

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