Petition calling for the city not to demolish Fire Station No. 4 is ‘causing a point of frustration,’ fire chief says

Plans to have the station demolished have been in the works since 2018, fire chief Ken Gilliam says

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) – “We, the residents of La Crosse, demand the Common Council order the La Crosse Fire Department change their plans to demolish historic Fire Station No. 4.”

That was the message delivered in a petition by the Preservation Alliance of La Crosse.

“We are looking at this as an opportunity to save money for the city, and save a historic building,” PAL president Barb Kooiman said.

Kooiman understands the fire department needs a new station, but she wants the city to also keep the old building for other purposes.

“There is ample space to keep the existing building,” Kooiman said.

She says the city can save taxpayer dollars by preserving it instead of demolishing it.

But fire chief Ken Gilliam says the petition is not timely.

“Unfortunately at this late in the game, it’s causing a point of frustration,” Gilliam said.

Plans to have the station demolished have been in the works since 2018.

“We’ve been moving forward certainly working on getting the capital money secured,” Gilliam said.

Gilliam says the city has already invested more than $1 million between buying surrounding property and doing design work with the station.

“And I think that’s my biggest frustration is that it’s now a problem because we were finally seeing some progress,” Gilliam said.

The station was built in 1940.

“It’s our oldest station,” Gilliam said. “It has the most known problems.”

Problems like cracks, mold, asbestos and holes in the ceiling.

“It’s certainly lived its life expectancy I believe for what we paid for in 1940,” Gilliam said.

Gilliam says the cost to redesign the old station into something different is too much.

“I would challenge that there’s probably not enough space there to do some of what they’re (the PAL) thinking anyway,” Gilliam said.

He understands where the PAL is coming from.

“I appreciate the people want to save an old fire station,” Gilliam said. “I love old fire stations as much as anyone.”

But ultimately, he says time has caught up with this 80-year-old structure.

“I don’t personally believe there’s much value outside of that historical piece of that building,” Gilliam said.

Kooiman says the alliance has sent letters to city council, Mayor Kabat, city planning, and the candidates running for city council. She says so far she has received a few responses from city council members.

She adds the station could potentially be added to the National Register of Historic Places.

The project is coming straight from taxpayer dollars. It’s going to cost almost $6 million for the new project that will house two fire companies instead of one, the Northside Police Station, administrative offices and a community room.

Gilliam says construction for the new station will start in the spring this year.

He expects the old station to come down sometime in the fall.

The entire project is scheduled to be completed by spring of next year.