A $25 million proposal in Minnetonka to build a new fire station and expand the police station would accommodate a growing and changing workforce, officials said this week.
Facilities for the two departments, at the city campus off Minnetonka Boulevard and Interstate 494, haven’t seen significant improvements in decades. A maze of rooms and stairs, the fire station was built in 1975 and the police station was last renovated in 1989.
Minnetonka’s police and fire chiefs hope to fine-tune response times, reduce health risks and provide better quarters for the growing number of women who have joined their departments over the years.
“We’re just trying to address the delivery model we have now, and then what we think we’re going to have in the future,” Fire Chief John Vance said Tuesday.
City officials reviewed concept plans last month, and staffers are expected to submit a formal land-use application for the project later this month.
The City Council likely would vote on the project in November and issue bonds to pay for it, assistant city manager Perry Vetter said.
The new firehouse, planned for a site northeast of the current station, would include a new alert system, gear room and new work areas apart from the trucks to reduce exposure to cancer-causing agents.
“It’s going to help us recruit and retain firefighters in the long run,” Vance said.
Once the new fire station is ready, the police would move into the old station and do some “right-sizing,” Police Chief Scott Boerboom said. They plan to reduce the number of jail cells (currently at seven), which would open up more space for investigations and evidence and bring all police vehicles indoors.
The department also would shrink the maximum holding time for suspects from 48 to 4 hours, the chief said.
“In ’89, this served a purpose. It does not serve a purpose today,” Boerboom said of the city’s holding cells, adding that “it’s quicker to run straight downtown” to the county jail.
More female employees
Minnetonka’s Fire Department has doubled in size since 1975 to more than 80 people, most of them paid on-call firefighters. The number of police department employees has risen by 20 percent since 1989.
With that increase has come a more diverse workforce. The fire department used to have no women; now women number 12 percent of employees. A quarter of people who work for the police are women.
The new fire station will have gender-neutral changing rooms and private sleeping bunks. The expanded police station will have a larger shared locker room, changing rooms for men and women and two gender-neutral rooms.
In recent years, both departments have seen a significant increase in calls for service. The fire department received 3,500 calls in 2017, up from 210 calls when the station was first built. The police department went from 25,695 calls in 1989 to 43,504 last year, with more and more of those calls concerning mental-health issues.
Other metro-area cities also are busy updating facilities. Fridley will open a $50 million complex this fall, and construction on a city hall and police station is underway in New Hope. Inver Grove Heights bought land for a new fire station earlier this year.
“Most of the suburbs around us … in the 2000s ended up expanding,” Vance said, mentioning Edina, St. Louis Park and Eden Prairie. “We’re kind of the last to modernize our facility.”
Minnetonka City Council members last week said they were happy with the plans and that the expansion would have a positive impact on employees in both departments.
“What our firefighters and our police officers do is above and beyond the call,” Mayor Brad Wiersum said. “I’m pleased that … this facility will reflect how much we value their service to us.”
Miguel Otárola • 612-673-4753