Letter: Former Firefighter Advocates 'Yes' Vote on Prop. 1

Former Chicago Firefighter and Mercer Island resident Gerry Kenny writes in a letter to the editor that it would be unwise to wait any longer to replace the 50-year-old Station 92 building.


I believe that it is imperative to pass the Mercer Island Fire Station & Fire Apparatus Levy to rebuild the south end fire station as well as purchase a new truck and equipment. As a former firefighter in a major metropolitan city, we were trained not to become a victim during any given emergency response. If the south end station fails structurally during a major seismic event, we could possibly lose our fire personnel and equipment adding our would-be rescuers to our victim list. With limited fire personnel on duty (especially at night) the south end station needs to be fully functional during an emergency to respond to the citizens needs on that end of the island.

With Mercer Island positioned on top of a fault line, it's only a question of when not if. It may not occur in our lifetime but now is the time to prepare. Let's not put this off any longer, pass this Levy and give the Fire Department the resources needed to carry out their duties.

Thank you,

Gerry Kenny
Mercer Island Resident

Ira B. Appelman October 25, 2012 at 02:53 AM
Mr. Kenny's letter illustrates, for me, the problem with the continuing campaign to demolish all our public buildings (the community center, city hall, the fire station, the elementary schools, IMS, and MIHS). According to the KC Depart of Assessments website, Mr. Kenny's house was built in 1955. The south end fire station is seven years NEWER, having been built in 1962 (and remodelled and expanded around 1984). The houses nearby are around the same age as the fire station (including my house which was also built in 1962), yet none of the neighbors WOULD EVEN CONSIDER demolishing their own homes because, like the City, they have other important expenses. And since Mr. Kenny reports having been a firefighter in Chicago, I suspect there are a lot older stations in Chicago. I think it is also instructive that, again according to the assessor's website, Mr. Kenny very recently REMODELLED his home; he didn't demolish it. Earthquake risk is ALWAYS given as a reason for demolishing our public buildings, but never as a reason to demolish our own homes; and the fire station has survived two major earthquakes without damage. We need to treat public money with respect, as if it was our own, which, in fact, IT IS! Islanders almost never demolish their own homes. Why are some Islanders so quick to insist that we demolish public buildings? We need to first seriously consider remodelling, which wasn’t done here, before demolition.
Liz Kenny October 25, 2012 at 05:10 PM
Mr. Appelman, I appreciate your diligent search of the public record. Yes, we recently remodeled our home, saving the foundation, first floor deck and probably sixty percent of the exterior wall studs. With all of the retrofitting required to bring the structure in line with code, we wished we had knocked the whole house and started with a clean slate. It may have been relatively the same cost and probably less time consuming and we would have ended up with a better product. There are now so many steel anchors retrofitted to the foundation and so many metal straps throughout the structure, that my concern now is not that of earthquake damage but damage from a lightning strike! My point is that I believe it’s better to rebuild the firehouse from new, where it’s done right the first time rather than mess around retrofitting an existing structure. Furthermore, if a retrofit/remodel is carried out how long before this question needs to be addressed again in the future? Gerard Kenny
Thomas Imrich October 25, 2012 at 07:23 PM
Reference Mr. Kenny's comment, his "opinion" that it is "better to completely rebuild" is without credible basis for support. An independent and validated safety services and EP "requirements" study for MI, or even for the south end of MI, has NEVER been done, at least not in modern times. For example, the Lawhead and TCA architect studies cited by the City are much too narrow in scope, fail to account for significant factors, do not address overall requirements or current threat data, fail to address realistic EP or disaster scenarios, and in general are completely inadequate to either size a station, or make a remodel versus rebuild decision. Credible and public vetted safety and EP "requirements" definition needs to happen first, before a Levy, and not after the tax money has largely already been wasted. By voting NO on Prop 1, we can send a message to the Council that they need to improve both a credible and public vetted planning processes, as well as better consider fiscal responsibility, as we head toward MI budget "red ink". Just as we appropriately sent the message to the MISD over the failed school bond levy that is now on a much more credible and public vetted path, it is time to send a similar message to the City for the south end fire station.
Ira B. Appelman October 25, 2012 at 11:07 PM
Dear Mr. Kenny: Thanks for your response. I congratulate you for being wealthy enough to face the dilemma of choosing between a very large remodel or a demolition. I believe most Islanders are struggling to pay bills and pay increasing taxes, while planning for retirement, kids' college tuition, and other expenses. This bad economy has made things worse with foreclosures at highest levels. In general, Islanders cannot afford to make ANY structural changes to their homes and certainly cannot demolish them. I have lived in the south end fire station neighborhood since 1963. I can remember only one demolition, which occurred in 2003. Structural expansions are rare, though remodels of kitchens, bathrooms, etc. aren't rare. Compared to Chicago where you worked as a firefighter, Mercer Island is a young city. Our buildings are young and should, if well maintained, last indefinitely. My house was also built in 1962, and, with some remodelling, seems better to me than when we moved here. Are you saying that I and my neighbors with comparably aged houses should be prepared soon to demolish our houses? Many of my neighbors have sold their houses; should they be required to warn the new owner that the house needs to be demolished soon? I believe most Islanders have INVESTED in their private property in the belief that, if well maintained, it will last indefinitely and gain in value. Why do we treat buildings in which the public has invested as throw-outs?
Jerry Gropp Architect AIA October 25, 2012 at 11:52 PM
As a longtime recently retired Mercer Island architect. I'll say this yet again- http://mercerisland.patch.com/blog_posts/south-end-fire-station-should-be-remodeled-enlarged-not-demolished
Kendall Watson October 26, 2012 at 12:02 AM
Hi Jerry! Not to veer off-topic, but do you plan on blogging about your recent travels? Sounds interesting! Send me an email at MercerIsland@Patch.com and let me know. Thanks & welcome back!
Jerry Gropp Architect AIA October 28, 2012 at 08:28 PM
. Vote NO on this issue- We've gotten bad advice from those who are determined to destroy what we have now- our paid for and entirely suitable SouthEnd FireStation- a good start on a remodel- not a wasteful, totally unecessary up from the ground complete rebuild. This I know as a retired architect. J-
Lisa Thomas October 29, 2012 at 12:07 AM
The folks advocating "no" suggest a strategy that would increase government spending considerably -- namely by paying for *additional* studies at taxpayers' expense. That seems like the wrong way to spend our money...I support the cost-effective proposal put forward by our city council.
Jerry Gropp Architect AIA October 29, 2012 at 12:46 AM
. As an experienced architect, I've studied both the original plans and what's there now. There's too much good stuff to throw out. I've ordered tear-downs when they make sense- this is not one of those by any means. J-
Ira B. Appelman October 29, 2012 at 01:09 AM
No one that I know who's advocating the remodel/upgrade route is calling for more studies. It's the demolition Council that needs the studies to "justify" destroying a building that is of similar age to the neighborhood around it. Demolition will be incredibly costly because it will set the standard for the rest of our public buildings. In the background, the Council majority is scheming to demolish City Hall and move it to the Town Center because they don't like the vote in the mid-1980s where Islanders located City Hall in a remodelled insurance building. As with EVERY building project, the Council majority will falsely claim that the current City Hall is vulnerable to earthquakes; since City Hall is the "command center" during an emergency, it also needs to be demolished. A vote for demolition will also signal to the Council majority that the strategy of putting highest priority projects ON THE BALLOT, instead of funding them with available funds, works! We've seen the same strategy of the Council underfunding popular programs like Summer Celebration! and Mostly Music In the Park so they can get the money directly from voters instead of using budget funds. Then the Council majority can use budget funds for unpopular projects that the voters would never fund like the road diet. There are already funds in the budget that could be used for all fire/rescue needs.
Lisa Thomas October 29, 2012 at 04:53 PM
I am not suggesting you know Mr. Imrich, but his response (three responses above this one), who is advocating a NO vote, seems to call for taxpayer-funded studies when he says " An independent and validated safety services and EP "requirements" study for MI, or even for the south end of MI, has NEVER been done". Later on in his comment, he again suggests some more taxpayer expenses: "Credible and public vetted safety and EP "requirements" definition needs to happen first."
Ira B. Appelman October 29, 2012 at 05:43 PM
Thanks for your response. I do know and respect Tom Imrich, who along with Jean Majury and I, wrote the Vote NO position in the King County Local Voters pamphlet, which doesn't call for any additional studies. Tom is unique in that he has questioned the adequacy of Mercer Island's entire emergency response system. Whether the south end fire station is demolished or remodelled and upgraded, that emergency response discussion is ongoing, costing much more than the current levy. Tom has experience with much larger federal government systems and, hopefully, will remain involved with that ongoing discussion.


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