GH Fire Barn Building

BLP Rules Out Option of Former Fire Department Building

The Grand Haven Board of Light & Power has decided not to pursue the former fire department building, citing the high expense of renovation and fragmented layout as key reasons. The Board hired Progressive AE, a West Michigan-Based architectural firm, to evaluate the option of preparing the space as a new administrative and customer service center. The firm estimated that repairs and renovations could reach between $3.3 to $4.3 million to restore and configure the space. The board requested the evaluation after City Manager Ashley Latsch introduced the concept of the BLP purchasing and renovating the facility in January.

The BLP has been seeking space for customer service and administrative functions since the operations workers were relocated to the Eaton Drive Service Center following the closure of the JB Sims Power Plant. As identified in its 2021 Business Readiness Risk Assessment, the BLP has also been looking to identify replacement backup facilities for business continuity and disaster recovery, which were removed when the power plant was retired and demolished.

“The utility needs to replace some additional workspaces and backup facilities since the closure of the Sims Power Plant and the Diesel Plant, which is why we voted unanimously to pursue this initial evaluation,” said Vice-Chairperson Gerry Witherell. “However, given the unique fragmented layout of the former fire department building and its current condition, this option is just too expensive to restore and reconfigure for our needs. It is just not a good fit overall.”

Last month, David Shull, Progressive AE spokesman, informed the Board that the nearly 100-year-old former fire department building presents some unique historical attributes, however maintaining it as a public building has challenges if the electric utility decides to pursue it.

“The building still contains a considerable amount of asbestos and lead/cadmium-based paint which needs to be removed, said Shull. “The brick exterior is failing on both the fire engine hall and the hose drying tower, which will require investment to repair and preserve this historical local building along with some significant mechanical and electrical issues that would need to be addressed. Additionally, there are five different floor elevation levels that make it a challenge for workflow from a single occupancy perspective as well as compliance with the Americans with Disability Act standards for accessibility of a public building.”

“At the conclusion of their evaluation, Progressive AE explained to us that the repurposing of the former Fire Department building was not the most cost-effective option,” said Chairman Mike Westbrook. “It was a good concept, but there is just too much that needs to be done to the building and the building layout isn’t a good fit.”

General Manager David Walters commented, “We appreciate the City Manager introducing the concept, and while this option didn’t pan out, she is also keeping us informed about other possibilities coming across her desk. We also appreciate the level of effort that Progressive AE put into this evaluation; they’re a good firm that knows what they are doing. Wherever we ultimately end, we want to make sure it makes good economic sense and provides value to our electric customers, the utility, and the community collectively.”

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