CARLSBAD — An economic downturn, site logistics and increasing costs have doubled the cost of a new interim fire station.
The Carlsbad City Council on March 22 approved an additional $922,000 to cover the costs of building a temporary Fire Station 7. The funding will be appropriated from the city’s Public Facility Fee Fund.
The need for more funding is a response to exploding costs due to the current economic downturn and inflation leading to cost increases, according to John Maashoff, manager of the city’s Public Works.
In March 2021, the City Council laid out a goal for a new station after dropping response times, especially west of Interstate 5, which increased call volumes and simultaneous calls.
“There are great benefits on NRG site, but unique challenges,” Maashoff said. “We need to design a new lift station for wastewater, the cost of materials and general construction costs have increased.”
Assistant Fire Chief Nick Ordille said there is a need for a temporary station as response times have dropped. Ordille said Fire Stations 1 and 4, in the Village and Poinsettia, respectively, cover the area west of I-5, but the increase of simultaneous calls — a crew leaves for a call and the station gets another call at the same time — was putting stress on the fire department.
Fire Stations 1 and 4 both respond to calls covering everything from drownings at the beach, vehicle collisions, fires and more. However, Fire Station 1 has a bigger logistical challenge due to the railroad tracks. For example, a passing train can delay an emergency response for several minutes.
“With response times, they vary year-to-year,” Ordille said. “What’s been constant is that the coastal corridor is the most impacted area with call volume and simultaneous calls. Those both have an impact on our response times.”
Paz Gomez, director of public works, said the city initially approved $900,000 for the new Fire Station 7 last year and with the additional funds, the total is now $1.8 million. Gomez said another challenge was the location of the station after two sites had been identified, but further evaluation deemed the location unable to meet the deadline of an operational station by January 2023.
The two proposed sites were both located along Cannon Road, one at the intersection of Avenida Encinas and the second at the San Diego Gas & Electric operations center near Carlsbad Boulevard. However, the city found a third site on the NRG property where the decommissioned Encina Power Station is being demolished.
While SDG&E is looking at moving its operations center, it could take years to find an appropriate site, Maashoff said. SDG&E must follow a specific set of requirements to house its center, and while it did identify a potential site at the northeast corner of The Shoppes at Carlsbad, the movement has been slow.
Still, there are challenges with the NRG site regarding access. The entrance is used by both the Carlsbad Desalination Plant and Carlsbad Aquafarm. Regardless, should the temporary fire station be placed on-site, fire crews would have access to north and southbound lanes on Carlsbad Boulevard.
“We are having those conversations with NRG and proposing to incorporate that with the proposed license agreement,” Gomez said. “But we are looking at other areas as well.”
Gomez said the Avenida Encinas site, which is adjacent to Cannon Lake, has too many environmental concerns to even construct a temporary site. Additionally, the city also must receive approval from the California Coastal Commission. The city’s application has been completed and is expected to go before the commission in the coming months.
Gomez said the city and NRG are in negotiations for a six-year license agreement with two one-year extensions, which could total $345,000, although she stressed those costs have yet to be negotiated.
Another challenge is Fire Station 2, which is being rebuilt in La Costa after voters approved a ballot measure in 2016 and its crew is being housed at Dove Library during construction with temporary buildings. Although Fire Station 2 hit delays, Gomez said they are back on schedule to meet their October opening.
Those temporary buildings, though, would be used to house crews at the new temporary Fire Station 7, she added.
The City Council will continue discussions later this summer about putting a ballot measure up to voters for approval for a permanent Fire Station 7.