Cambridge-area municipalities will finish architectural and site plans for a new a fire and EMS station but stop short of committing to 2021 referendums to fund its construction, in the face of a sudden, coronavirus-related economic downtown.

Members of the Cambridge Community Fire and EMS Commission, meeting at the Oakland Town Hall on March 19 in seats carefully spaced six feet apart due to virus concerns, said they don’t expect until the fall to decide whether to proceed with five simultaneous referendums to fund a station that new information shows will likely cost between $5.75 million and $6.75 million.

The five municipalities represented on the commission – the villages of Cambridge and Rockdale and Towns of Oakland, Christiana and Lake Mills --  would split the total cost based on their equalized values, which is the same way other annual Cambridge-area fire and EMS costs are divvied up.

At the March 19 meeting, commission members met with Devin Flanigan of Keller, Inc., a design-build firm it has hired from Kaukauna. Keller, Inc., is only charging the commission $1,500 for the first stage of the project, which includes floor plans, site plans and building elevation drawings.

Commission members said with that first phase almost completed, and no commitment yet for the remainder of the up to $6.75 million cost, it makes sense to keep going for now.

The commission’s building committee will meet next on April 9 at 5 p.m. and again on April 30 at 5 p.m., as well as hold a full commission meeting at 6:30 p.m. on April 15, to keep talking about the proposed expansion.

The location of those meetings remains to be determined.

The plans would roughly triple the size of the current, 35-year-old station on West Main Street in Cambridge, from 9,800 to 25,700 square feet, spreading out on to an adjacent site that now holds a Pizza Pit restaurant and a small house.

Flanigan said upcoming tasks include beginning to talk with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation about the future configuration of driveway access to West Main Street, and community meetings later this year, to share the plans with local residents, including the potential tax impact on a $100,000 home.

The commission plans to send a letter to the boards of all five municipalities in April, updating them on the progress of the expansion. conversation. And a community meeting on the plans has been tentatively set for May 21 at the fire and EMS station.

Oakland Town Chairman Eugene Kapsner acknowledged that the economy is currently “in unchartered territory,” with a significant recent stock market slide and layoffs as businesses shut down in relation to coronavirus public health orders.

“But I also feel it’s necessary to keep pressing forward. I think we would be foolish at this point to not finish the plans,” Kapsner said, adding that “we really don’t need to pull the trigger on a referendum until next fall sometime.”

“So if we get to next fall and (the economy) is still in the tank, and it doesn’t look like it’s coming back, we can put this thing on hold. Then, we’ll have a better idea of where we’re at. But the planning process, I think needs to take place.”

Cambridge Village President Mark McNally said the sudden economic downturn and related coronavirus impacts have ushered in “the most challenging of times.”

“This is equivalent to 9/11, the Second World War bombing of Pearl Harbor… the influenza outbreak of 1919, ” McNally said. “I have never seen – and I study economic events because I have to in my line of work – something that has affected every single sector of the economy all at once. When Ford and GM and Fiat Chrysler are laying people off already, you know that this is not going to be something that is going to get fixed in two or three months.”

“I don’t want to be seen as somebody who is not in support of our fire department and our EMS because I am,” McNally continued. But given everything suddenly happening, “we’re going to talk about the necessity of having a $6.75 million building put up? I don’t think it’ll pass,” he said.

The commission went on to discuss how if the economy remains in a downturn government money could materialize for public building projects, as happened during the nationwide recession that began in 2008.

“It offers an opportunity, that you could possibly do this cheaper,” Lake Mills Town Board member Dave Schroeder.

The commission also spoke with Flanigan about the proposed building’s exterior. Flanigan said Keller has taken a look at the façade of the Cambridge library and Amundson Community Center, and said matching the stone look of those buildings, to lend consistency to Cambridge’s downtown, is doable within the $6.75 million total cost.

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