100417-adh-nws-Fire Department Move in01-my (copy)

Retired Albany firefighter Brian Vorderstrasse maneuvers the historic 1927 American LaFrance fire engine into position in the lobby of the new downtown fire station.

Mark Ylen, Democrat-Herald

That sparkling new fire station in downtown Albany was looking a little empty to our eyes — that is, until earlier this week, when a restored 1927 American LaFrance fire engine settled into its place of pride in the building's lobby.

That was a perfect fit.

And so was the hose cart that dates back to 1848, even before the Albany Fire Department was formed. That cart will be on display next to the engine.

The new fire station celebrates its grand opening at 4 p.m. today. Tours of the building will be offered until 6 p.m. today and also on Saturday from 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. If you've got the time, our hunch is that the tour will be well worth it.

And it's worth some reflection about the long path that led to today's grand opening. 

The need to replace the department's headquarters has been apparent for decades. As you might recall, that old building was simply too small for a modern department. The electrical system was inadequate. It was filled with mold that potentially posed a health risk to the firefighters inside.

And chances were good that a moderate earthquake would have damaged the building to the point where the department's rolling stock would have been trapped inside. It's hard to respond to emergencies when you can't get your equipment out of the building.

In any event, there was no serious disagreement about the need to replace the building. 

However, as you might recall, there was considerable discussion in the community about the best way to do that. 

A 2013 bond measure for $20.3 million to build not just a new fire station but a new headquarters for the Police Department was rejected by voters. The City Council, pondering the loss, then made an exceptionally smart call: Instead of racing to put the measure back on the next ballot, it created an independent commission, headed by former state Sen. Frank Morse and retired Linn County Sheriff Dave Burright, to take an in-depth look at the reasons why the levy failed and to craft a new recommendation for the council.

The commission tackled its duties with painstaking care, and ended up with a proposal that saved some money for Albany voters: It recommended an $18 million bond measure for both buildings. That's the measure that voters passed in May 2015. 

The bond measure doesn't cover the entire $24.4 million cost of the buildings; another $1.4 million came from the Central Albany Revitalization Area, and the remainder came from the settlement the city won when Pepsi abandoned its plans to build a plant in Albany.

At today's ceremony, somebody will say something like how the new building belongs to all of Albany. That's true enough. And it also is true that the new headquarters should improve the ability of the Fire Department to serve the city's residents.

But there's something else: This is a city that always has supported its first responders. This new building is a visible sign of that support. (mm)

A sad farewell

The city of Albany's joy at the grand opening of the new Fire Department headquarters is considerably tempered by news this week of the death of Katie Nooshazar, the recreation programs manager for the city's Parks and Recreation Department. Nooshazar reportedly suffered a heart attack on Monday night.

As others have noted in mourning the loss, it's not an exaggeration to say that Nooshazar was the heart of the Parks and Recreation Department and one of the city of Albany's finest ambassadors. She was a familiar face at many of the city's biggest events and a driving force behind River Rhythms and the Northwest Art & Air Festival, among others. She'll be greatly missed.

A celebration of her life is scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 12 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Albany Senior Center, 489 Water Ave. NW. (mm)

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