For Letts Volunteer Fire Department Chief Matt Morrow, tearing down the Letts Fire Department’s (LVFD) current building will be like saying goodbye to an old friend.
“This building’s like an old friend who’s been sleeping on your couch for months on end,” Morrow laughed. “It’s a friend who’s near and dear in some ways, but who’s been on your couch way too long, and it’s time to say goodbye.”
For Morrow and the LVFD — indeed, for all of Letts — saying goodbye will start sometime this spring when construction on a new departmental facility is slated to begin. It’ll be a long goodbye, though, as demolition on the LFD’s current multi-sectioned structure won’t commence until work on the department’s new home is complete.
“We’re putting the new fire station north of our current building,” Morrow explained. “It’ll still be on our property. That was the most efficient way we could do it. The logistics to trying to store all our equipment would’ve been a nightmare and would’ve presented a real hazard to the community; in the event of an emergency, you want all your equipment in one place.”
Of course, with the destruction of a building whose oldest section dates to 1895, a handful in the community don’t want it torn down.
Morrow has done his homework, though. “The Indiana Department of Natural Resources, Division of Historic Preservation has evaluated this building and its history and stated that it has no real historical significance.”
Morrow pointed out, too, that the current LVFD building costs a small fortune to heat.
“This building has no insulation on the second floor,” he said. “We keep the thermostat on 50 degrees, but it still runs a lot. If the temperature drops into the teens, it never shuts off.”
Additionally, the building has no air conditioning, making it a miserable place during heat-waves like the one Decatur County endured last summer.
Morrow has given serious consideration to preserving and repairing the current building, too.
“We had a contractor in here (in the 1895 building) before we started thinking about a new building,” he said, “and he quoted $30,000 to repair 10 feet of a single wall. He had no idea what the rest would cost. The entire building is 44 feet long, so the math is pretty easy; it just doesn’t make sense from a dollars-and-cents perspective to invest in repairing this building.”
To illustrate his point, Morrow demonstrated the wall in question to the Daily News, as well as sections of compromised ceiling. Significant termite damage, bowing, cracking and rot were evident.
Additionally, according to Morrow, the current building’s septic system is so old and antiquated, that the LVFD couldn’t even obtain the required permits to complete any remolding.
As such, the new building will also include a completely new, completely modernized septic system. The LVFD has already purchased an adjoining lot into which it will install that new system.
“We have a responsibility to the future of this township,” Morrow said. “We have to think about what this building would be like in 25 or 50 years: What kind of facility would we be leaving to our kids and grandkids?”
Additionally, Letts currently has no Community Building. As a result, many town gatherings are staged in the current fire station.
“We hold a polling place here during every election,” Morrow said. “But we hold auctions, too, and birthday parties, baby showers and wake dinners. And of course, we stage our fund-raisers here.”
The currently facility also lacks a dedicated office and radio area, as well as training space.
The new building, Morrow explained, will be completely modernized, with dedicated office and radio space and a training area.
“We’re also including an area just for community events,” the fire chief added. “For a nominal fee, any community group will be able to rent the space to hold an event. It’ll be the closest thing Letts has ever had to a Community Center.”
Of the current fire station, only an addition from 2001 will be left standing. Morrow wishes he could also keep a 1993 addition, but the grant stipulates that the new facility can house only 10 bay doors; the 2001 addition has four, while the new facility will have six; thus, the 1993 addition and its three bay doors will be razed.
The LVFD will pay for the new station with a $400,000 grant from the Indiana State Department of Rural Affairs (ISDRA) and a $25,000 grant from the Decatur County Community Foundation.
The LFD is in the process of procuring a $300,000 loan from Napoleon State Bank to pay the remainder of the cost.
“I want to thank Napoleon,” Morrow said. “They’ve been with us from the beginning. They wrote a letter for us to the ISDRA, which was instrumental procuring the $400,000 grant. We couldn’t have done it without them.”
Morrow added that he has more people to thank than he can count.
“This was not a small endeavor,” he said. “The entire department has helped out. We had to conduct an income survey of the entire community, for instance, going door to door. And we had to obtain letters of support from various entities around Decatur County (14 were obtained in all). Since Letts is an unincorporated Township and since the state grant money is distributed through the county auditor’s office, we had to gain approval from the County Commissioners, too. So we want to thank them, too.”
When the new fire station opens sometime later this year, Morrow wants to hold an Open House event and a farewell event the new and old buildings concurrently.
“It’ll be sad to see this old building torn down,” he said. “But I think the community is going to get very excited over the new building very quickly.”
Contact: Rob Cox at 812-663-3111 x7011.