Springfield, Clark State celebrate historic fire station opening

City, college share in cost of $7 million joint facility called the first of its kind in nation.

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

City officials had an open house and ribbon-cutting ceremony Monday afternoon for the first of three new fire stations being built to better serve city residents. It marks the first new fire station to open in the city since 1981.

A large crowd attended to mark the community celebration of a partnership billed as the first such arrangement in the United States and as a key step in revitalization of the city’s southern gateway.

City officials were joined by Clark State College administrators and board members for the opening of Fire Station 8 at 2040 S. Limestone St., which also houses classrooms and a training lab for Clark State’s Fire Academy students. The city and Clark State celebrated the collaboration as the first of its kind in the nation.

>> PHOTOS: Open house, dedication of Fire Station 8 in Springfield

Clark State contributed $1.3 million toward the facility. Originally, the cost of new stations was estimated at $3 to $5 million, but labor and supply costs pushed the price of the South Limestone station to more than $7 million.

In addition to designated areas for Clark State students, the new station includes new and improved gear and equipment, individual sleep and shower facilities designed to support today’s more diverse workforce, pull-through fire engine bays and a separate decontamination area for fire equipment to improve safety of fire personnel.

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

City Manager Bryan Heck said the location of the new facility was intentional.

“There’s a reason why this is the first station,” he told those assembled. “This is our main thoroughfare off of I-70. There’s a lot of work going into making the southern gateway our prime gateway into the community.”

Heck said the work has taken a long time.

“We are marking great efforts in that work. I’m glad to show the city investing, and Clark State investing, along that corridor,” he said, noting, “There’s more to come, with additional investments planned along the South Limestone corridor. This is a great step in the right direction as we continue to revitalize and rebuild this critically important corridor for our community.”

Clark State College President Jo Alice Blondin expressed gratitude to members of her administration and board for helping to develop a vision for expanding facilities and operations to enhance workforce education here. She also noted the collaboration with the city on the new fire station came to fruition quickly.

“We started conversations in earnest with the city in 2021, and three years later, which is fast, we are here today … without Bryan (Heck), the mayor and the city commission, we wouldn’t be moving in the direction that we are — ‘Forward Together.’ I just want to say thank you again for the collaboration, and this is the best money we’ve ever spent.”

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

Mayor Rob Rue used his opportunity to speak to reinforce the location was also based on collected data to ensure quick response time in addition to reaffirming the commitment city officials have to ensure the safety of every resident in Springfield.

“It’s also a gateway project enhancing the south side of Springfield,” Rue said. “It aligns with several goals and objectives set by the city commission, underscoring the dedication to strategic community development.”

Heck noted city voters played a significant role in funding the new station with renewal of a levy in 2021 that enabled the city to commit funding to build one fire station.

“One was not going to be adequate, but it was a start to investing in our infrastructure,” Heck said. “So thank you to our citizens for making that a reality.”

Then, when the federal government approved the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), city officials decided to leverage those federal funds to build additional new fire station facilities.

Construction is already underway on a new fire station at 3925 South Charleston Pike that will serve the fast-growing east side of the city, where construction is adding hundreds of new homes, business and industry. Heck said that site was selected strategically to improve fire and medic response times to the area. In addition, dedicated space for the Springfield Police Division will be included to enable more efficient police operations for the fastest-growing part of the city in coming years.

Another new fire facility, Fire Station 5, will be located on North Thompson Avenue at West North Street on the site of the former Villager Inn hotel. The city purchased the hotel with plans to convert it for use as a homeless shelter, but following a fire and water damage, officials leveled the structure and announced the location will be used to construct a new fire house that will include bays for four fire engines and space for Box 27, the volunteer organization that supports first responders as they battle fires.

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

At Monday’s event, city officials recognized Ella Barnes as an honored dignitary.

She is the widow of Springfield’s first African-American fire department officer, Lt. Charles Barnes. Fire Chief Jacob King expressed regret that Lt. Barnes did not receive much recognition during his lifetime, which was cut short by a heart condition that forced his early retirement and resulted in an early death. King thanked Ella Barnes for her sacrifice and service to the fire division and the city of Springfield.

Springfield Fire Rescue Division firefighters joined in the ceremonial first ringing of the fire bell for the new station and several traditions that have long been part of firefighter rituals in marking the opening of a new firehouse, including firefighters joining together to push a fire engine into the new station.

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