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Newly renovated building returns to its roots as Billings Heights fire station

City officials say remodel great deal compared to building new station
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Posted at 6:02 PM, Jun 05, 2024

BILLINGS- A newly renovated commercial building has opened as a new fire station in Billings Heights, returning to its roots from three decades ago.

The previous owner of the property on Lake Elmo Drive, Bill Vanderloos, says he could’ve never imagined the property he purchased from the city of Billings to serve as his electrical equipment business would eventually become a fire station again.

“Never, never,” he said. “This was the stars and the moon crossing twice for me.”

About 35 years ago, he started his electrical equipment business out of what would have been the Heights’ only fire station. Back then, it had closed to accommodate for a growing population to the north.

“I don’t even remember what it looked like when we bought it, we just came in and modified to fit our needs.”

But as luck would’ve had it, years later, the city’s needs changed and so did Vanderloos’ when he went to sell the building as he retired.

He contacted his Realtor and learned the city was looking to staff a fire station in that same area because of the changing needs.

“I said I have a building in the Heights for sale,” explained Vanderloos. “And he said, wasn’t that a fire station? and I said yes. He said you have got to be kidding me. We know that the fire station is looking for something in this area.”

So the Billings City Council approved the plans costing just $1 million instead of a whopping $4 million to $7 million for a new fire station. City officials say the fire station was a steal, costing only $209 a square foot to remodel, compared to the current market value of $600 per square foot.

“We were able to get into this, remodel it and modify it up to what we need for a fraction of the cost,” said Billings Fire Chief Pepper Valdez.

Construction began with the help of Morgan Contractors.

“We feel like we really hit the mark on this one,” said Valdez.

Contractor Bryan West says the work was straight forward, knocking down a wall and restoring the brick.

“We had to sandblast all of the walls on the inside and when we did that it let out all kinds of diesel and exhaust fumes that had been built up in the walls over the years,” said West.

Part of the change is the illuminated sign out front and the all-glass doors.

Valdez says many cities choose to outfit their stations with glass doors as a point of pride, saying the doors have a cleaner and more professional look visible by the street, showing the public the crew and engines are inside working.

The city says the cost of all glass doors ran about $36,000.

Valdez says the station, known as Billings Fire Station 8, will help respond medical to parts of the Heights and downtown and house the crisis response crew.

“It not only benefits the Heights community, but it benefits the entire city,” he said.