A busy La Crosse fire department has started building its first new fire house since the late 1960s.
An honorary groundbreaking took place Monday for Station No. 2, near UW-La Crosse’s Coate Hall.
The new $5.5 million station on La Crosse Street will be more centrally located than the firehouse it’s replacing on Monitor Street, north of the marsh, which built in 1956.
City council member Doug Happel led a task force years ago, which made plans for two new stations in the next couple of years.
“What we really have in La Crosse right now is a 21st century department operating out of…mid-20th century buildings,” says Happel, “and now we’re finally moving that forward.”
Building new stations has been a mission of Fire Chief Ken Gilliam during his five years in La Crosse.
It’s Gilliam’s last week on the job before heading to take on fire chief duties in Avondale, Ari., just outside of Phoenix. Gilliam is excited about the improvements for firefighters that the new station No. 2 will include.
“This station raises the bar considerably for firefighter and employee safety, firefighter decontamination, gender equity and really basic human privacy needs,” Gilliam said, referring to new restrooms and showers for firefighters.
Gilliam’s last day on the job in La Crosse is Friday. Interim chief Jeff Murphy said Monday the new station site is on land which used to be a city park decades ago.
“We spent a lot of time looking at real estate throughout the city,” Murphy said, “and the whole time, the city owned the piece of property that we were looking for.”
Fire Station No. 2 is scheduled to open a year from now. Before then, construction should start on another new station off Gillette Street, replacing one that’s 80 years old.