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Albert Lea City Council Narrowly Chooses Newton Avenue Site For Fire Station

September 24, 2018 10:41 PM

(ABC 6 News) -- In a 4-3 vote Monday night, the Albert Lea City Council chose a residential block just south of downtown to be the home of a new, approximately $9 million fire station.

After more than a year of discussion and weighing multiple options, the council chose the Newton Avenue site, which lies across the street from the Freeborn County Government Center that also serves the Albert Lea Police Department.

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J.D. Carlson, the city's public safety director, voiced his support for the site at Monday night's meeting, highlighting the operational efficiencies of having the buildings adjacent to each other.

"The benefit of having the fire department across the street from the current Government Center to me is tremendous as far as command and control purposes," he said.

But council member Reid Olson, who along with council members Al Brooks and Jason Howland voted against choosing the Newton site, said building the station the alternative location at the Blazing Star Landing east of downtown would have kickstarted an effort to transform that area into a community hub.

"I've just always had a good gut feeling for the location at Blazing Star. I think that will spur development," he said.

The Blazing Star Landing property, which runs along Garfield Avenue from East Main Street to the railroad tracks, is currently owned by the city, whereas the Newton site, bounded by Newton Avenue, College Street, Elizabeth Avenue and Pearl Street, is mostly privately-owned.

While the land acquisition costs are not yet public, excluding that figure made the Newton site around $282,000 cheaper. A presentation prior to the vote also showed the impact of removing the Newton site from the tax rolls to be significantly less over a 50-year period than keeping around three acres at the Blazing Star Landing site publicly-owned to house the fire station.

The vote not only split the council; it also divided the two candidates seeking the mayor's chair this fall. Incumbent Mayor Vern Rasmussen voted in favor of the Newton site, while his opponent in the race, George Marin, said he would have preferred the Blazing Star Landing site.

A number of other sites had been considered over the past year, including along East Main Street where the former Albert Lea Township fire station sits and at Morin Park just west of downtown. The East Main site had a number of issues with soil remediation and access, while the Morin Park site was taken out of consideration after public concern about losing park space.

The current fire station in the lower level of city hall does not meet OSHA requirements and its cramped quarters have forced the fire department to store some of its equipment off-site.

https://www.kaaltv.com/news/albert-lea-fire-department-new-station-/4559855/

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