A $500,000 grant to build a new Challis fire station was awarded last week, Custer County commissioners and North Custer Rural Fire District officials learned May 3.

The grant, combined with $649,000 set aside by fire district commissioners, will allow for construction of a 100-by-100-foot steel building. The building has an estimated price tag of $1,174,000. Construction is expected to begin in 2020.

An architect should finish design plans this summer, said project manager and grant administrator Rick Miller of The Development Company. Bids likely will be delayed until winter, when contractors are less busy. Groundbreaking should happen by spring 2020.

The fire district purchased about five acres on Blue Mountain Road from Thompson Creek Mining Company for the new hall. It’s across from the site of the BLM building that burned down a couple years ago.

Custer County sponsored the $500,000 application for U.S. Housing and Urban Development funds through the Idaho Department of Commerce. The county plans to do excavation and other site preparation work as an in-kind match. Firefighters plan to do some of the interior finish work, like putting up gypsum board and painting, said North Custer District Fire Chief Launna Gunderson.

Volunteers are still soliciting donations from the public. There’s a lot of “extra” things the available funds probably won’t cover, she said, such as sidewalks and new lockers.

Firefighters plan to sell ice cream floats at the Challis Classy Chassis car show on June 1, Gunderson said. They hope the public comes out and supports the fundraiser. They’ll have a conceptual drawing for people to check out.

The current fire hall across from the Custer County Courthouse on Ninth Street is not up to code, is too small, and can’t be expanded. The bays barely fit the fire engines. There’s been damage to doors and trucks over the years as volunteers have squeezed the engines in and out.

“We’re thrilled,” said Gunderson. “We’ve got to have this new fire hall. It will be so nice not to worry if the bay doors are all the way up that last half inch.”

“We’ve been working on this since the Clear Creek Fire of 2000,” said Bert Doughty, chairman of the North Custer Fire commission. The department rented an engine and crew to the Forest Service for structure protection in the Panther Creek drainage during a huge wildfire, he said, and received a good chunk of money for it.

“We said, ‘This is going toward a new fire hall,’” Doughty said. “We’ve been putting aside money since then. We knew we’d never save enough in 100 years, so we applied for the grant.”

“Yippee!” was the single-word text message Doughty received from Gunderson. “I knew right away what it was,” he said. “We’re excited. This will be a great improvement and will hopefully help with recruitment.”

The grant could be awarded because more than 63 percent of the residents in the North Custer Fire District meet federal moderate-to-low income guidelines.

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