There were snipped ribbons, no congratulatory speeches and no rounds of applause at Rinconada Park on Tuesday, when Palo Alto's new fire station unlocked its doors, marking what is surely the softest opening of a public facility in the city's history.
The completed station at Embarcadero and Newell roads was highlighted in a statement sent by email Wednesday from City Hall, a marked departure for a city that likes to celebrate and commemorate. Three fire department personnel are currently working there, according to the announcement, and are "practicing social distancing as much as conceivably possible during the coronavirus health crisis."
"The fire crews at this and every Palo Alto fire station are cleaning and disinfecting their work stations, apparatus and common areas, every morning and throughout the day," the statement read.
The city had initially scheduled a public ceremony for the new building for March 21 but had canceled the event, as well as all other public gatherings, to comply with guidance from public health officials relating to the coronavirus pandemic.
The opening of the station occurred about a year later than the city had expected when construction launched in early 2018. Since then, the project has seen numerous superintendents and subcontractors come and go, with the contractor responsible for the station's heating, ventilation and air conditioning system abruptly departing last year.
The station, which cost about $10.1 million to complete, replaces the 1948 station that previously occupied the site. The new station includes separate dormitories for men and women, an exhaust-capture system and bays that allow fire trucks to go through, obviating the need for fire trucks to make three-point turns to back up into the station. The building also has a bike-repair station and a water bottle filling station.
Earlier this month, Fire Chief Geoffrey Blackshire highlighted numerous features that he said will shave off response time, including doors that can be opened quickly, a pole that drops firefighters next to their vehicles and a digital voice system that notifies responders about the calls they’re responding to.
"The way it was designed will impact our ability to provide a better service to our community," Blackshire said during a March 2 meeting of the City Council.
The Rinconada station is the first project in the council's 2014 infrastructure plan to cross the finish line, and one of several slated for completion this year. Even though many city activities have been suspended because of Santa Clara County order banning all but "essential" activities, public works projects are an exception. As such, work is still progressing on the city's parking garage near California Avenue, a project that is expected to be completed this summer.
According to the city spokeswoman Meghan Horrigan-Taylor, current activities on the garage include rebar and conduit work. A concrete pour is scheduled for this Friday, she said in an announcement Wednesday.
The new fire station at Rinconada is one of two that is up for replacement as part of the council's 2014 infrastructure plan. The current schedule, which may be subject to change given the public health emergency, calls for breaking ground on a new fire station at Mitchell Park this fall.