City of Waco officials have dropped efforts to save the former 25th Street Theatre building and plan to demolish it before building a new fire station there.

City staffers told the Waco City Council this week that the 73-year-old structure it bought in May is too far gone to remodel. The city in 2020 plans to relocate Fire Station No. 6 to a new building at the site, 1006 N. 25th St., that will also serve as headquarters for the Waco Fire Department. The project is estimated to cost $5.1 million.

“I was hopeful and advocated that we could save the building, but with the roof caving in, the structural integrity is completely compromised,” said District 4 Councilman Dillon Meek, who represents North Waco. “That is the unfortunate part of properties not being well-preserved, but I think the good news is that the city did purchase it and we can build a replica to keep a version of the theater in the neighborhood.”

The former 780-seat theater has been empty since 1993 and was deemed unsafe for entry in 2001. Fire Chief Bobby Tatum said a city specialist evaluated the building, and city officials determined it would have to be demolished for safety reasons.

“There was a lot of outcry from the public, because people thought the fire department was just going to move into the existing building,” Tatum said. “The building has sat vacant for many years and the roof has come in. There is a lot of mold and asbestos, so it would be impossible to move into it in its current condition.”

Tatum said he hopes plans for the new fire station will be able to replicate the theater’s 1940s style. He said he plans to install a popcorn machine as a tribute to the old theater.

Community input will be sought starting in February to guide the architect before the design is completed in May.

The city council will seek proposals for general contractors in hopes of an August groundbreaking. Completion of the fire station is scheduled for summer 2020.

Fire administration offices will also be moved into the new building from the current Central Fire Station at 1006 Columbus Ave. The new station will hold community meeting spaces and will serve as an anchor for the 25th Street corridor, Meek said.

Other fire stations

City officials Tuesday also heard a progress update to the construction of Fire Station No. 5, due to be completed by July . The former No. 5 station, built in 1958 at 2624 Speight Ave., was closed because of maintenance issues about three years ago and moved to the Central Fire Station.

The city bought nearly two acres for the new station at 4515 Bagby Ave. in August 2017. CWA Construction Inc., was approved to built the new station for a cost not to exceed $2.75 million.

Station No. 5 firefighters are eager to move to their new location, Tatum said. With administration offices also moving into Station No. 6 in a couple of years, he said he hopes to preserve the Central Fire Station, 1006 Columbus Ave., but no plans have been made.

Construction began on Fire Station No. 5 in late November. It is expected to be done by the end of July.

Kristin Hoppa has been covering public safety and breaking news for the Tribune-Herald since January 2016. She worked in Northwest Missouri covering crime-related issues before her move to Central Texas. She is a University of Kansas graduate.

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