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Firehouse project continues to seek funds

Donations help lower borrowing 486 calls for service in 2020

SOLON– Solon’s firefighters aren’t done fundraising yet.
The Solon Firefighter Association collected just shy of $1.2 million in the past two-and-a-half years for a new firehouse, noted department member Greg Morris, and the work will keep going until the project is complete.
“You’ve got to be proud of that number,” he said.
Morris had no illusions people were going to dump that kind of money in his lap when he took on a leadership role with raising the $4 million needed.
But, he added, “COVID has really hurt our ability to get in front of people.”
The global pandemic canceled the Solon Firefighter Association’s annual pancake breakfast in 2020 and forced the members to rely heavily on social media and people’s good will to keep the effort moving forward, he said.
Between the pancake breakfast, the Brett Smith fun run, a Big Grove Brewery bike ride and a proposed comedy night, Morris estimated the firefighters lost out on a possible $50,000 in donations.
The nearly $1.2 million came from about 1,200 contributors, he said, 900 from within the fire district, which includes 3,300 addresses.
Another $170,000 in funds has been committed, and is expected once construction commences, he added.
The inability to reach people on a personal level has limited efforts in the last 12 months.
“I’ve learned a ton about that, the importance of face-to-face meeting with people,” he observed.
Every person who requested a visit regarding the project has given money, Morris said. Even if it was just an unplanned meeting on the street, he continued, it wouldn’t be but a couple of days before there was a check in the mail.
“The goodness of people in this community continues to impress us almost daily,” he reported.
An Iowa City business owner saw the firehouse project on Facebook and sent a $5,000 check with a note expressing neighborly goodwill, he said.
“When you think about the pureness of a simple note like that, you know you’re going to be okay,” he said.
Donations still come in on almost a daily basis, Morris noted. North Dodge Hy-Vee sent a $25 check, something someone signed up for, he added. “Money continues to come from here and there and everywhere.”
Although the city of Solon is working on a plan with townships and the Solon Tri-Township Emergency Response Agency to help finance the rest of the firehouse project without an increase in taxes, he pledged to continue reducing the cost.
“If we can continue to do a good job from the fundraising arm, it’s only going to make the building better,” he said, avoiding hard decisions or delays for some amenities.
The plan for the firehouse includes six dorm rooms, but if they can’t be finished, he continued, they might only be roughed in. Maybe the department buys a single washer and dryer, he added.
“If we need to,” he said. “Greg the optimist still thinks we’re going to get there somehow some way.”
Morris and the firefighter association hope people continue to jump on board if they haven’t already. Some donors have given twice, he said, adding to their gift.
“As people continue to be kind to us, it makes the end product a little bit easier,” he remarked.
The negatives firefighters heard relate to the size and cost of the new station proposed for the intersection of Windflower Lane and Prairie Rose Lane, just east of Highway 1 on Solon’s south side.
The new structure features eight double-depth bays, with one dedicated for future ambulance use, and resolves space issues the department has been experiencing.
The current fire station on Iowa Street was built in 1959, and updated in 1990 with a $250,000 bond issue.
Storage has been a big problem impacting response times. A trailer and a truck are currently stored outside the building.
And the volume of calls continues to increase as the community grows.
When the firefighters proposed the new station in 2018, they were coming off a record year for calls: 376.
Each year since has been another record year, and the department recorded 486 dispatches in 2020.
The Solon Tri-Township Emergency Response Agency, created jointly in 2016 by the City of Solon and Big Grove, Newport and Cedar townships, oversees the operation of the Solon Tri-Township Fire Department, while the Solon Firefighter Association is a separate, non-profit group run by the department members.
The department has the biggest response area in Johnson County, 112 square miles, from the Linn County line to Iowa City and as far east as the Cedar County line and from Sandy Beach to the Coralville Dam.
When people look at the history of the department, the expectation for future growth and the plans for the new firehouse, Morris said, they have a better understanding of the project.
“We aren’t building the building for today,” he observed.
The eight bays will be included in the specifications with bids accepted in spring, he said.
The architect is confident the project will fall within the cost estimate, he said, avoiding the need to eliminate bays. With six bays, he said, the station would be full with the addition of one or two pieces of equipment.
“If we’re able to get the eight bays we really want through the bid process, we’ll have what we need for the future,” he added.
The City of Solon plans to utilize Tax Increment Finance (TIF) and Local Option Sales Tax (LOST) funds to help finance the firehouse, but one variable remains.
About 20 different businesses in the construction field expressed interest in helping with the project costs through some kind of in-kind contribution of labor or materials, Morris explained.
When bids go out, a list of the companies will go to interested general contractors, along with encouragement to seek out the in-kind donations, he added.
It’s hard to estimate the effect those donations might have for the project, but Morris thinks firefighters will be in good shape.
In the meantime, Morris wants anyone with questions or uncertainty about the proposed firehouse to contact him. He or Chief Bob Siddell will be happy to take the time to share information and explain the rationale.
“In the end, we need this space, we really do,” he said. “The more money we can raise, the less that we’ve got to use the LOST, which means that money can go somewhere else.”

For more information and updates:
Contact Greg Morris at 319-330-1775.
Mail contribution to:
Solon Firefighter Association
131 N. Iowa St
Solon, IA 52333

Other ways to donate:
• Through AmazonSmile. While shopping on Amazon, you can designate an organization, and Amazon will donate 0.5 percent of eligible purchases to the Solon Firefighter’s Association.
• Donate through Venmo: https://venmo.com/SolonFirehouse.
• Auto-withdrawal is available through Bridge Community Bank or Solon State Bank.