Jefferson County Supervisors favor renovating former bank building over fire station

FAIRFIELD — The Jefferson County Supervisors have reconsidered an earlier proposal to swap property with the City of Fairfield as the county looks for a building to serve as its new ambulance barn.

The county is moving ahead with plans to take over the ambulance service, which is currently privately run by CARE Ambulance of Iowa City. CARE’s contract expires on Sept. 30, and the supervisors are planning to have everything in place for the county to take over the service on Oct. 1.

One hurdle the county needs to clear is where it will house the ambulances. In February, the supervisors began looking into a proposal from then Fairfield City Administrator Aaron Kooiker to use the city’s fire station as the new ambulance barn, since the city’s fire department will be moving into a new fire station in 2024. In exchange, the city would acquire the former First National Bank building on West Burlington that the county purchased in 2022.

Jefferson County Supervisor Lee Dimmitt said that, after meeting with architect Mike Nolan and getting a better sense of the cost of renovating the fire station, the supervisors have concluded that the fire station would not make a good ambulance barn. He said the county would need to make significant changes to the fire station such as changes to its sleeping rooms, redesigning a kitchen, and adding showers. The rooms on the ground floor can’t be used because they have no egress. The county would also have to make the fire station building compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

After accounting for all those necessary changes, the supervisors judged that the price tag was too high.

“It became apparent there would need to be a lot of interior reconstruction,” Dimmitt said. “My initial reaction to this proposal was, ‘Hey, the garages are already there. We’d just have to park the rigs and move in.’ But it’s not going to work out.”

Dimmitt said he spoke to Nolan and Jefferson County Sheriff Bart Richmond about building an ambulance barn south of the Jefferson County Law Center and north of O’Reilly Auto Parts. However, that patch of ground has a low spot, so the county would have to spend a lot of money filling it with dirt, and the project would have cost about half a million dollars.

Meanwhile, the expected cost of remodeling the former bank building to use as an ambulance barn would be between $360,000-$380,000.

“It wouldn’t require much to remodel that interior,” Dimmitt said. “The three offices can be used for sleeping rooms, and we’d add a fourth sleeping room. We’d need to add a stove and refrigerator, plus two shower stalls. We’ve already got new HVAC equipment in there, which was done shortly before the first of the year. It’s not going to be cheap, but it will cost less than the other alternatives.”

During the fall campaign, Dimmitt said he wanted the county to sell the bank building it had just purchased earlier that summer. But now that the county has it, and it needs to find an ambulance barn, he believes the former bank is the best building to fulfill this role. Another factor that has pushed the supervisors in favor of renovating the former bank is that it can be finished much sooner than the other two options.

“The bank is the only option that could be complete by Oct. 1,” Dimmitt said. “For the fire station, we couldn’t even start on construction for it until midsummer of next year. And for the new building [by the law center], the design wouldn’t be done until June 1, with bids going out Aug. 1. There was no way we could construct it by Oct. 1. With the First National Bank Building, we can hit the ground running.”

Dimmitt said the county has received multiple resumes for its newly created position of ambulance director, and the county hopes to name a director in the next 10 days.

Call Andy Hallman at 641-575-0135 or email him at