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Safety building is aim of controversy in Brooklyn

The Brooklyn community has an opportunity centered in controversy. The opportunity is the recently acquired I-Jobs grant in the amount of $573,500.00, which would meet 1/2 the estimated cost of a new public safety building. The controversy concerns the proposed site for that building.

Our public safety volunteers with the Brooklyn Fire Department and the East Poweshiek Ambulance currently work out of 3 facilities. The fire station, which was constructed in 1956, no longer provides adequate space for the new and larger equipment that serves our community today. The most recent fire truck purchased was a special order because the standard trucks built today would not fit in the current building, thus an increase in cost. Our ambulance operates out of a separate 2 stall building nearby and both services use space just south of City Hall for meetings and training.

Trained volunteers, to man these services, are essential to our community’s safety and quality of life. It has become increasingly necessary for fire and ambulance personnel to get the maximum out of available resources and coordinate their efforts to meet community needs.

Consolidating our public safety entities into one building would greatly enhance their ability to serve our community. Members of our fire department, ambulance service, and city council started investigating the issue over four years ago with the first concern being where to put the building, and second, how to pay for it.

Various locations north and south of town on V-18, Jackson Street and some side streets were reviewed in that interim.

All were rejected for reasons varying from being too small, not for sale, concerns about development costs, to a general lack of consensus on a course of action.

In recent months, there was consideration of demolishing the current public works shop and placing a new public safety building there. This location is in the city’s flood plain, making it a poor prospect for a grant application. Also grant opportunities for public safety buildings were scarce. The process seemed at a standstill until the city became aware of the I-Jobs Local Infrastructure Competitive Grant Program via a June 24, 2009 letter from the Region 6 Planning Commission. Deadline for the grant application was Aug. 3rd, giving only 39 days to schedule committee meetings, hire an architect, produce building plans, secure financing, purchase a site, and get all necessary information to the grant writer.

The I-Jobs program was for replacement of local public buildings. Cities and counties were eligible. Up to 50% of cost grants were available for non-disaster related projects.

There was $118.5 million available to be awarded in the first round with an August 3rd. 2009 deadline. The consensus was that no one knows how long money will last in these programs in this economy and that we should strive to submit an application at this first deadline.

Those applications deferred in the first round will only be considered when and IF additional funds become available. The program gave high marks to those projects, which were ready to start, created jobs, improved community disaster recovery, were energy efficient, and sustainable. This meaning that the project used a recovered site close to existing infrastructure and did not use agricultural land.

The committee did not have a site identified at that time but consideration

was immediately given to the recently demolished old grade school site and the empty block just north of it, which was for sale. The first choice was the old school site but negotiations fell through and the block immediately north was eventually purchased.

Both sites are within R-1 zoning but such a public building is a conditional permitted use in R-1. The Zoning Commission submitted this to the Board of Adjustment which approved the conditional use permit.

This is where the controversy begins. The City and the Public Safety Building committee felt that it was imperative to get an application in on the first round to have the best chance for an award, which is good as they approved and funded only 118.5 million out of 305 million in applications they received. The site is zoned properly for this use. A new, public safety building in this area would be far less intrusive than the activity that existed there for years as a grade school building. The facility would be a very quiet neighbor most of the time with activity only when volunteers gather for meetings and go out on emergency calls to the community.

Some citizens say that the process was done in haste with no chance for public input. They would prefer a site on a main thoroughfare. Some prefer that the area be reserved for home construction only. They applaud the grant award but contend that another site should be selected.

Our grant application scored high on the basis of the current site putting $573,500.00 debt free dollars towards the project. Trying to make changes now could put the project in jeopardy. This award will allow us to fund the balance with any public support and bonds which will be paid off with Local Option Sales Tax money. An increase of property tax would NOT be needed.

We regret that not all are pleased with the outcome but we all have witnessed the fact that major changes in the community do not come without some conflict and conjecture. Good examples are the recent downtown street project and the experience of getting the new grade school built. These are now completed and we reap the benefits.

It is hoped that everyone can lay down their differences and think of all our tireless community volunteers who will work out of this new facility for many decades to come.

Loren Rickard, Mayor, Brooklyn

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