Montana State University

MSU architecture students design a fire station for rural Bozeman district

October 4, 2012 -- By Carol Schmidt, MSU News Service


Students and professors in the MSU School of Architecture have developed a proposed design for a new Sourdough Volunteer Fire Station. The design includes four bays for the district's fire-fighting equipment, dormitories and living areas for volunteers, a community and training room, as well as offices. Illustration by MSU School of Architecture.   High-Res Available

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MSU News Service
Tel: (406) 994-4571
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Five students in Montana State University's School of Architecture have demonstrated that good design sometimes is more than beauty, proportion and scale. A good, functional design can make the difference between life and death.

Those students and two MSU architecture professors have designed plans for a new 11,500 square feet fire station for the Sourdough Volunteer Fire Department.

The district serves about 5,000 people who live in a 19-square-mile area south of the Bozeman city limits. While the population of the district, composed of popular and growing neighborhoods, has more than doubled in the last 20 years, the two wooden garages that serve as the current Sourdough Volunteer Fire Station are outmoded, fire officials say.

"They're old, they're falling apart, they're too small, and they're not up to code," said J.D. Engle, chief of the Sourdough and Rae Volunteer Fire Departments of the 40-year-old shed-like structures located on South 3rd Avenue. "No one can live there because (the garages) are not safe. Because of that, it's hard to attract volunteers. What we think we've developed in the plans for a new station is a win-win for everyone."

In November the Sourdough Volunteer Fire District will ask voters to approve a $2.9 million bond issue that will enable the district to build the two-story facility that would be built on district property at the current site. The plan includes four bays for the district's fire-fighting equipment, dormitories and living areas for volunteers, a community and training room, as well as offices.

MSU students and professors have been working on the plan since about a year ago when Don Bachman, long-time board member for Sourdough Volunteer Fire Department who also lives in the district, contacted the school seeking assistance. Bachman's wife, mycologist Cathy Cripps, works at MSU, as do many of his friends, and he had heard of the School of Architecture's outreach programs that help local non-profits with design projects.

Bachman explained that he thought the MSU programs might also be a good fit because nearly all of the district's volunteer firemen are MSU students.

"They volunteer while they are at MSU on their way to careers in firefighting or other careers," Bachman said. The district thought that they might attract more students if they could offer living quarters in a new station. Additionally, it is expected that if volunteers lived at the station response time to fires and medical calls might decrease. "It seemed like a good fit to collaborate with MSU architecture students."

Bachman was referred to MSU architecture professor Michael Everts, who immediately liked the project.

From the beginning, I thought it was a brilliant idea, and a great fit for our emphasis on engagement," said Everts, who is also involved in helping build a proposed ice climbing wall at the Gallatin County Fairgrounds as well as a long-term project to build a school in Nepal.

Everts enlisted the help of fellow professor Bruce Wrightsman, whose students designed and built the Hyalite Pavilion, and offered a professional practices class in which the fire station was one of the projects. Also, fourth year student Thomas Legleu took a design studio from Everts and became the student leader. Legleu, who is from Baton Rouge, La., said the ongoing meetings with students and the firefighters brought new meaning to his understanding of collaboration in design.

"This design is based on performance elements, and how the firemen respond to fires was really crucial," Legleu said. He said the collaborative feedback sessions were like a series of waves. The process resulted in a design that emphasizes a functional layout with safety and response time of foremost importance paired with a design that maximizes energy efficiency.

"I think for the people of the district, the station can serve as a community node or beacon, give them improved safety, and will help the community move forward in the development of the district," Legleu said.

Phil White, a fifth-year architecture student from Fort Collins, Colo., said the project helped the students move their experience and skills from the theoretical to the real.

"I have designed things that could be built before, but I have never helped design anything that might be built," he said. He added that the project solidified his reasons for studying architecture.

"I went into architecture to help make the world a better place and this station would do that, definitely," White said.

Bachman said that the district is quite pleased with the design, now posted at http://www.sourdoughfire.org/station.html. The district is marketing the idea to members of the district and will present the plan in greater detail at the Sourdough Fire District's annual pancake breakfast to be held from 7-11 a.m. Oct. 13 at the station. The district has turned down two other previous plans for a new station, but Bachman said he is optimistic this time.

"Not only is it a great design, but we benefited from the enthusiasm that the students brought to the collaboration," Bachman said, adding that lower interest rates resulted in a station that is twice as large as the last proposal for the same price.

Engle was similarly enthusiastic.

"A lot of thought has gone into this design," Engle said. "I would have to say that the whole process was a joy. It was fun to be around young students and MSU. I hope that it becomes a long-term relationship."

Mike Everts (406) 994-3392, meverts@montana.edu