The western communities of Ahwatukee will have a fully operating city fire station closer to homes within the next two years, thanks to Mayor Kate Gallego and city Councilman Sal DiCiccio.
Gallego and the DiCiccio worked with City Manager Jeff Barton to include the station’s construction on city-owned land on the northwest corner of 19th Avenue and Chandler Boulevard in the 2023-24 capital budget.
Moreover, when the station opens, it will be immediately manned by a fully trained staff that will be entering the training academy in the next fiscal year because the two officials also have secured $3 million in the 2023-24 operating budget – and $3 million annually after that – to cover operational costs.
The trial budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 is scheduled to be released March 28.
The Ahwatukee facility is the only fire station included in the 2023-24 capital budget.
“It’s very exciting for that community and we’re moving forward,” Gallego told AFN in an interview. “We will have response times there that will be the envy of the rest of the city.”
“This is a big win for the community,” he said, praising the mayor for her help.," he said.
“This could not have been done if it wasn’t for the help of the mayor’s office, others on the council and the city manager,” he said. “I’m eternally grateful to them.”
He noted that current emergency response times to western Ahwatukee average about nine minutes – two minutes longer than the city-wide average.
“For safety-related issues,” he said, “that’s too long. You know, if you’re having a heart attack, you can’t wait nine minutes. You don’t have more than just a few minutes (for help) to be there. So we believe we’re going to see a response time drop occur.”
DiCiccio said he reached out to the mayor early this year after the city administration released the projects it and a citizens committee selected for funding under the proposed $500 million bond proposal that will be put on this November’s ballot.
That proposal – the first General Obligation bond project the city will be presenting to voters in more than a decade – provides $132.5 million for public safety facilities, with four new fire stations, the replacement of one police precinct and renovations to the property management warehouse and Maryville police precinct.
DiCiccio said that when he learned a fire station for Ahwatukee was not on the list, he “got on the phone with the mayor and both she and I got a hold of the city manager and together as a team.
“And we worked to make sure that we got this done as quickly as possible. If it wasn’t for her help, I don’t think we’d be here today. So, I’m eternally grateful to her.”
Gallego said that the speed with which the new station will materialize is a result of two main factors: the city already owns the land and the city already has a functional design to follow as a result of a fire station opened three years ago in Norterra.
But DiCiccio added the accelerated construction schedule “is only because of the mayor’s involvement in helping to get it done and speeded up.
“If we didn’t have that,“ he said, “we’d be looking at an additional 12 to 18 months beyond that.”
The new Fire Station 74 will have three bays and its 12,000 to 13,000 square feet will house a fire engine and a medical rescue vehicle.
What also makes the deal worked out by Gallego and DiCiccio unique is the $3 million included in the proposed operating budget for 2023-24.
“We will begin hiring in July,” Gallego said, adding 23 Fire Department personnel will be assigned to new station.
“They likely will come in with the academy this year – so they would know they’re going to Ahwatukee in advance of the ribbon cutting,” she said.
DiCiccio added that the new facility will be operational “the minute the building is open.”
When the new facility opens, Ahwatukee will be served by a total of four engine companies, a ladder company and three ambulances, allowing for what DiCiccio called “a complete (National Fire Protection Association recommended) firefighting force in the community – which is what you want in any community.”
DiCiccio said the facility’s construction will cost $12 and noted that the 2006 General Obligation bond had initially included a fire station for Ahwatukee, though the project was inexplicably eliminated over time.
Then, during a City Council session last month when the new 2023 GO bond recommendations were discussed, DiCiccio grilled Barton on why an Ahwatukee facility was not on the list.
Barton replied that it would have to wait until the city could advance a new bond measure for voter approval after this year’s package – which he estimated would take about five years.
DiCiccio told AFN that he had voted against the 2006 bond measure largely because the Ahwatukee station had been dropped from the project list.
As a result of the deal he and the mayor worked out with the city manager, DiCiccio also said he is now inclined to vote in favor of putting the 2023 General Obligation bond measure before voters in November.
Community leaders and everyday residents from western Ahwatukee communities such as Calabria, Foothills Reserve and Promontory have been pleading for years for a fire station closer to their homes.
Gallego said she has heard from many residents there.
Their pleas took on greater urgency with the impending development of Blandford Homes’ Upper Canyon community on 373 acres of former State Trust Land along Chandler Boulevard between 19th and 27th avenues.
Blandford, which submitted the winning bid of $175.5 million at a state Land Department auction in May 2021, and D.R. Horton plan to build 1,050 mostly single-family houses, about 325 apartments and 150 build-to-rent townhomes.
Blandford had wanted the city to relieve it of a requirement to widen South Chandler Boulevard from three lanes to five. That portion of Chandler Boulevard would be the most direct route for the new fire station to communities like Foothills Reserve. The homebuilder dropped its request in the face of opposition by the Ahwatukee Foothills Village Planning Committee and the city Planning Commission.
The VPC last summer discussed the absence of a fire station that would meet far-west Ahwatukee’s emergency needs more readily.
During that July meeting, Executive Assistant Fire Chief Scott Walker conceded the communities in the far west were “certainly sensitive“ to the need for a fire station but said he didn’t expect any budget for its construction for at least three years.
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