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By Steve Kennedy
East Palo Alto Today Contributor
Posted April 13, 2010


Without much serious debate, the East Palo Alto Planning Commission has given the Menlo Park Fire District a green light to design almost any kind of structure it wants for the corner of University Avenue and Runnymede. Approval has been given for the demolition of two suburban houses behind the station (which have already been purchased by the district and boarded up) and for the merger of the three parcels into one buildable lot.

Upon completion and receipt of the architect's blueprints, the East Palo Alto City Planning Department will review the plans to ensure they meet all local, state and federal building, electrical, disabled access and fire codes. This could take a month or it could take a year. In any case, soon it will be too late to influence the design of the station because upon approval of the plans, companies will be bidding for the work and labor contracts will be signed.

After completion of this state of the art fire station, the people of East Palo Alto may find themselves lucky to enter the building to vote on election day. For any other community use the station captain will respond, "We're sorry, the building wasn't designed for that" and his answer will be written in stone.

With construction estimates between $10 and $20 million, the people of East Palo Alto really deserve better than that.

And we sure don't deserve a hulking building that sends the wrong architectural message to the people of our beautiful city.

At the top of Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman's architectural wish list are bullet proof windows and walls. Justification for this multi-million dollar line item comes from a 25 year old "bullet hole" in one of the roll up doors of the station and the 9/11 attack in New York.

While the bullet hole may be the product of a drive by shooting (or a ricocheting bullet fired by a drunken homeowner in eastern Atherton) this Fire District
Board member was told by fire fighters during a visit in 2001 that "the hole in the wall was patched up," while no one on the crew could even roughly point to where the slug had lodged. As to the need demonstrated by the 9/11 attacks....didn't this Board member predict the attack on America to the crew at
Station Two and again later in an audio taped Board meeting a full three weeks before 9/11? (The transcripts from the board meeting are on the author's web site at http://www.canonbal.org in the link entitled, Steve's 9/11 Prediction).

The sense of entitlement exhibited by Chief Schapelhouman is ridiculous given the thread bare finances of the treasuries at all levels of government.
A far better and more fiscally responsible design would incorporate solar panels into the roofs of all the buildings on the building site including the south, southwest and western walls and the roofs of the carports as well.
This would make the building a true symbol of yankee ingenuity, hope and progress to the residents and the thousands of commuters who will stream past the complex every day.

Further environmental touches including appropriate landscaping and insulation could give the building a silver LEEDS rating without much further expense.
Solar panels could generate hundreds of thousands of dollars of revenue over and above the needs of the station during the 50 year lifespan of the panels. For firefighters and board members who can't do mathematics, lease options are available have a zero down payment and that will still result in a net profit to the fire district.

Many solar companies would like to bid on this solar installation for the simple right to advertise their workmanship with a small, roof top sign lit by LED's.
This entrepreneurial and competitive spirit can be turned to the district's financial advantage.

There is no doubt that the District needs a new fire station. The current station was built around 1953 at a time when blocking traffic on University Avenue to enter or leave the station with a fire truck wasn't such a big issue. Now a two minute delay can mean someone dies without a trained firefighter on the scene to give CPR.

A well designed and fiscally responsible fire station can be a great asset to our city and should be built on a foundation of hope and not paranoia.

The Fire Marshall, Geoff Aus, has already received a petition with two pages of names which protests the current design. Another 20 of East Palo Alto's leading citizens have signed the same petition. This petition was presented to the chair of the board at the fire district board meeting on March 16 at 7 p.m. at 300 Middlefield Road. Public comments were heard.

Steve Kennedy is a former member of the Menlo Park Fire District Board and currently serves locally as a solar panel installer.


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