Vacant BR fire stations may have a second life

Advocate staff photo by RICHARD ALAN HANNON -- The old Fire Station No. 2 on Osage Street in Baton Rouge is one of six abandoned fire stations the Department of Public Works is responsible for since new stations have been opened in their areas. Show caption
Advocate staff photo by RICHARD ALAN HANNON -- The old Fire Station No. 2 on Osage Street in Baton Rouge is one of six abandoned fire stations the Department of Public Works is responsible for since new stations have been opened in their areas.

After languishing for several months as mostly boarded-up and unoccupied eyesores, four of the city-parish’s old fire stations could soon see new life.

East Baton Rouge city-parish leaders say they hope the structures, shuttered after the construction of six new fire stations over the past four years, can be used by groups that serve the community or can be redeveloped to provide new services to the surrounding neighborhoods.

“We’ve gotten a lot of interest from the community,” said Public Works director David Guillory, whose department took control of the properties after they were no longer needed by the fire department. “People want them for different things.”

Four are being considered for auction, he said. The Metro Council is slated to hold public hearings next week to discuss whether to declare the properties as surplus, a step necessary to start the process.

Plans are in the works for two other firehouses. The old Foster Street fire station is now being used by Baton Rouge Community College. Another at Government and Lobdell will be torn down for a future road project.

Guillory said selling the other four old fire stations saves the city-parish the costs of tearing them down, and will rid the city-parish of liability for the properties. The stations are on Osage Street, Laurel Street, Rosenwald Road and North 38th Street.

Some council members say they are on board, and during recent meetings several have floated potential occupants.

“Especially in urban communities, when we’re already dealing with an abundance of vacant properties, the last thing we want to do is add to that problem,” said Metro Councilwoman Tara Wicker, who has two of the shuttered stations in her district. “We definitely don’t want those properties to just sit empty.”

She said she sees the new plans as an opportunity for community groups or developers to come into the neighborhoods.

The old fire stations aren’t pretty.

Guillory said they all are in need of significant repairs that could cost thousands.

“That’s why we decided to auction them off and let groups that have the money to spend on them do what needs to be done,” he said.

Guillory said his department has tried to keep the properties boarded up and secure until something can be done with them, but they’ve still created concerns for some neighbors.

One vacant station tucked under Interstate 110 on Osage Street in Wicker’s district reportedly has been a haven for prostitution and other crimes since its closure.

“It just became a hotspot for criminal activity,” Guillory said. “That’s one of the things we want to stop.”

The pale yellow brick building was constructed more than 60 years ago and shows signs of its age from the outside.

Most of the windows are boarded up. Others are broken, and at least one appears to be marked with a bullet hole.

Blankets, bottles and other items inside provide telltale signs of trespassers.

The lawn is littered with soda bottles and fast food bags. The cracked, sunken driveway is a dead giveaway of the hefty fire trucks that sat there for years.

Some community groups have expressed interest in rehabilitating the building, Wicker said.

“We’ve got to get those properties back to something that will be beneficial to those neighborhoods,” she said.

Valarie Banks, whose home is on Pocahontas Street, just around the corner from the Osage fire station, said the vacant building is used for drugs and prostitution, which has created problems for the neighborhood.

“They keep that area nasty,” she said.

Banks said she would like to see the site turned into a senior center.

“There’s a lot of elderly people in this community,” she said. “It would be good for them to have some place nearby to go to.”