New fire station opens in central McAllen

The new McAllen Fire Station No. 2 is seen on Thursday May, 2, 2019 in McAllen. (Delcia Lopez/ dlopez@themonitor.com)

McALLEN — Fire Station No. 2, which is double the size of the original 3,700-square-foot station that opened in central McAllen 50 years ago, opened its garage doors on Thursday after nearly a year of construction.

The new red and white brick building located near the corner of Harvey Avenue and Main Street should be fully operating within two weeks, according to Chief Rafael Balderas of the McAllen Fire Department. But on Thursday, city officials cut a ribbon to signal the opening of the building.

This day, however, did not come without challenges.

The need for a new Fire Station No. 2 was never in doubt. But for more than a decade, a popular community garden resided next door. When city commissioners were discussing the prospect of a new fire station in late 2017, some representatives from the neighboring garden were concerned about the new fire station eliminating their garden.

After all, the patch of land has grown 54 different types of vegetables, according to John Goolsby, president of the garden.

But before the commissioners voted in favor of a bond for $1.4 million to pay for the new station, they, and city staff, attempted to appease the concerns by trying to accommodate as much of the garden as possible.

“Another issue that was brought up was the couple of large, beautiful trees that we were going to take out. We’ve realigned the entrance from Harvey in order for that not to happen,” said City Manager Roel “Roy” Rodriguez at a December 2017 meeting. “In order to take less of the green space, we’ve reduced the entry of that driveway from some 24 feet to 14. There was a concern from one of the neighbors about the height of the building, and how much it would be seen from their backyard; we’re reducing that elevation by 8 feet.

“We are pushing the building to the north several feet in order to accommodate as much of the garden as possible. We’re pushing the building to the west as much as possible in order to accommodate the garden. We’re going to issue a license agreement so that we can park on our own right of way in order to accommodate the garden.”

On Thursday, at the ribbon cutting featuring an array of city officials, including Mayor Jim Darling and most city commissioners, including Commissioner John Ingram, whose district the fire station falls under and who is up for re-election in Saturday’s election. One of Ingram’s opponents, Mark Murray, a South Texas College professor, has tried to make the fire station somewhat of a campaign issue. Murray has argued that he had collected swaths of signatures to save the fire station from moving elsewhere in the city.

City officials have disputed that the fire station was close to moving elsewhere, and Balderas said as much on Thursday, flanked by his firefighters who will move into their new home this month. And before the ceremony ended, Balderas thanked city commissioners for the station.

“Your commitment to public safety is evident by your actions,” he said.