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La Crosse’s fire chief looks to flip station projects, to bide time for potentially saving historic building

Rick Solem

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WIZM News photo
FILE - Children ritually "push" a new fire truck into Station 4 on Gillette St. in La Crosse. Historical groups and a petition signed by hundreds are seeking to preserve the fire station, which is set to be replaced this year.

Millions in funding to build a new fire station on the north side could be transferred to another station project in La Crosse.

After seeing an open-records request from someone on city council about Station 4, Fire Chief Ken Gilliam sent a video message to the council Wednesday seeking to make some changes.

“How I interpret that is just that I’m not being trusted,” Gilliam said of the open-records request. “There have been other conversations of multiple council members bypassing the fire chief and talking to members of my staff, looking for allies to turn the dialogue. Essentially, I can see where this thing is just getting to a point of frustration to a lot of people and I don’t want to operate in an environment like that.”

Historical groups and a few hundred who have signed a petition are seeking to preserve the Gillette Street station.

“I’ve been accused of not being transparent and I’ve been accused of not listening to the citizens of La Crosse,” Gilliam said. “I think that those of you who have gotten to know me over the years that I’ve been here know that I’m transparent to a fault. I don’t play politics very well, and I’m just trying to get something very important done for the city.”

So, Gilliam essentially has asked the city council for support to take the funding to build a new Station 4 and, instead, use it for a new Station No. 2, which was budgeted for 2022.

Doing that, he says it should “give us time for Station 4 for dialogue on the historical preservation, potentially incorporating that building into other needs of the city, and give us a little bit better timeline to discuss the fate of the north side fire station.”

The funding would be about $2.4 million and a resolution Gilliam is preparing should reach Mayor Tim Kabat by Friday and be ready for the April city council cycles.

Gilliam said there’s enough money to remodel Station 1 done, as well as a new Station 2 at Goosetown Park just west of Coate Hall on the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse campus.

“With the council’s support,” Gilliam said, “we will rapidly move over, going from some visual renderings that we’ve done to a more schematic design work on the Goosetown Park property.”

Gilliam added that he’ll talk with the Heritage Preservation Commission at its Thursday night meeting.

Host of WIZM's La Crosse Talk PM | University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point graduate | Hometown: Greenville, Wis | Avid noonball basketball player and sand volleyballer in La Crosse

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    Ronald Walker

    March 25, 2021 at 8:26 am

    I am at a loss for words. Saving lives and protection of property is the main mission of the fire service. The upper northside does not have several sites to choose from for a new fire station. Station 4 currently covers the far north end of town including the industrial park, Highway 16 and County B, the mall, interstate and the airport. That is a lot of real estate to cover and it takes a certain amount of equipment to do that.
    Some one please show me another suitable piece of property that is centrally located to cover these areas with quick response times. The city has grown since the station was built and so has the needs of the citizens.
    Preservation of Station 4 would be great if several other sites were available but there are none. I personally worked at Station 4 for over 11 years and I can tell you from experience it is in a location that it needs to be. There are several old fire stations located on the southside that have been converted to living quarters. Why not look into preserving one of them?
    I like old buildings and the history they have behind them but in this case a decision has to be made on whether or not preservation takes priority over public safety.

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