State-of-the-art facility is city’s third fire station

By Calvin Nuttall

City officials broke ground Sept. 12 to start construction on Morgan Hill’s new $8-million state-of-the-art fire station.

After more than a decade of planning and preparation, construction has started on the 6,065-square-foot building at 17285 Butterfield Blvd. between the South County Courthouse and the VTA parking lot.

At the groundbreaking members of the public joined elected officials and Cal Fire firefighters who took a moment for a photo op as they used gold-painted shovels to toss dirt in the air. They celebrated the milestone with speeches acknowledging the work of current and former city officials who have contributed to the project during its lifetime.

City Manager Christina Turner presided over the ceremony, which was also attended by her predecessor, Ed Tewes, current and former fire chiefs George Huong and Jake Hess, Mayor Mark Turner, and current and former city council members.

“Today’s groundbreaking is an inflection point in history,” Huong said. “This has been a long time in the making. It is thanks to the support of this community to provide for its firefighters, and the commitment by our firefighters to provide industry-leading standards to the city and to the community.”

Morgan Hill’s need for an additional fire station is underscored by an ever-increasing number of annual emergency calls, Huong said. As the city’s population grows, so does its need for emergency services.

“Our fire department serves a diverse community, and our numbers have increased every year,” he said. “In 2020 we responded to 3,900 emergency calls. In 2021, 4,400. And last year we responded to 4,700 calls. We foresee this year it will be 5,000 plus calls.”

The all-electric station will house two fire engines as well as living quarters and offices for a full fire crew.

The sole company to respond to the city’s request for bids in April, Kent Construction, will build the station. San Diego-based architecture firm COAR Design Group, known previously as Jeff Katz Architects, designed it.

Like the city’s El Toro and Dunne Hill stations, the new Butterfield station will be owned by Morgan Hill but staffed by Cal Fire. This is the 10th year of Morgan Hill’s partnership with Cal Fire to provide fire services to the city.

The city has owned the lot where the facility will be built for more than a decade. While city officials worked on planning and budgeting, the lot hosted a BMX park for several years before being converted into a community garden in 2010. The garden has since moved to a new location on Railroad Avenue, where it has expanded.

Funding for the project comes from several sources, including Development Impact Fees charged for new development permits in the city, and contributions from nonprofit agency Silicon Valley Clean Energy. The facility will require about $2.5 million a year to operate.

“This careful planning is very important to ensure that resources are available to fund infrastructure projects,” Christina Turner said. “Making sure that the funds have been set aside and budgeted for will allow us to have full staffing once we go live.”

Turner credited Morgan Hill’s Finance Director Dat Nguyen for his “ingenious” leadership in figuring out how to get the project funded when it was beset by delays. She also thanked Cal Fire and fire chiefs Huong and Hess for being “innovative and thinking outside the box,” while addressing the challenges of the project.

Turner attributed inflation among the reasons for the long delays during the planning and budgeting phase of the project.

“That has been a hot topic with all of our projects,” she said. “It cost a lot more than we thought, and we had to go look at our plans and come back and offer some changes in the scope to accommodate the budget.”

There are many benefits to partnering with Cal Fire, Turner said.

“They do everything from the personnel perspective, such as hiring firefighters,” she said. “Having them has also been great from a resource perspective. When we have a need here in Morgan Hill, they’re able to call on their resources, and mutual aid kicks in with the other agencies. So it’s a great relationship not only with Cal Fire, but also with San Jose, Gilroy, and the county.”

Because the ceremony took place the day after the 22nd anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Turner called for a moment of silence amid the event’s speeches to reflect on the tragedy.

“I want to just take a moment and acknowledge the fact that yesterday was 9/11, and recognize the importance of our public safety, fire personnel, and our police personnel that keep us safe day in and day out,” she said.

The construction of the station is slated to begin soon, and it is estimated that it will take about one year to complete.

“While this site may not look like much, it has given a lot to our community over the years,” said Mark Turner. “It feels fitting this becomes the site of our third station. It will support and enhance safety for our residents and businesses now and into the future.”

Calvin Nuttall is a Morgan Hill-based freelance reporter and columnist.