With work still underway on four new fire stations, city officials are already planning for two more, which they say will help keep pace with Lincoln's growth.
Those plans, still in the preliminary stages, call for Lincoln Fire and Rescue's 17th and 18th stations to take shape near 40th Street and Yankee Hill Road in 2022 and near 112th and A streets in 2025.
The plans aren't a priority for the department, which is focused on replacing its aging fire rigs and completing work on the four stations currently under construction.
"We’re trying to play chess many moves ahead,” Fire Chief Micheal Despain said.
Despain and Public Safety Director Tom Casady said the fire department's experiences as it sought to build stations over the last two years have reinforced the importance of acting early.
"My experience has been, try and plant your flag early,” Despain said.
The city can reliably predict its population growth, and buying land well in advance, before an area is heavily developed, can help secure a lower purchase price and save taxpayer money, he said.
The chief said land for stations needing immediate construction can cost six times more than it would if purchased years in advance.
No money has been committed to acquiring parcels for the new stations. City officials expect parcels in those areas to cost $500,000 and $551,000, respectively.
Staking an early claim also helps gives neighbors advance notice.
"When you are siting something like a fire station, there are people out there who don’t want to live next door," Casady said.
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Last year, the fire department encountered opposition to its plans to buy land to relocate Station 12 near 84th Street and Pioneers Boulevard.
Casady and Despain wanted to move the station there from 84th and South streets to better cover the growing city, but some homeowners there worried about noise, especially late at night, and the big rigs barging through residential streets en route to Nebraska 2.
City staff held at least three meetings with neighborhood representatives to allay their concerns and nixed plans to buy one lot due to their objections.
Resistance also surfaced when the fire department eyed land along North 98th Street for Fire Station 16. The station is being built on the south end of the Waterford Estates neighborhood.
And Despain saw similar issues play out when officials sought to close a fire station in the Fresno, California, area before he became Lincoln's fire chief in 2016.
"You’re trying to serve the community and now you’re upsetting the community," he said.
Even if the city purchases the land, sometimes prior planning must adapt when projected city growth and actual development differ, Casady said.
One project that could reshape Lincoln and affect the distribution of the city's fire stations is the opening of the South Beltway.
State transportation officials will begin purchasing land soon, and construction on the highway connecting U.S 77 and Nebraska 2 south of Saltillo Road could start in the spring of 2020.
Highways typically increase rescue calls for car crashes, Casady said, and along with typical roadside commercial development, the South Beltway could spur a wave of new rooftops on the city's southern edge.
Plans for Fire Stations 17 and 18 account for construction of the South Beltway, but the speed at which the new highway drives development may change plans.
"I have a feeling that there’ll be some real growth," he said.
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