WHEATFIELD — Dave Hohner was adamant about the color scheme on the new Kankakee Township firehouse.

“I wanted people to take their focus off the stacks (at NIPSCO’s power plant),” he said, “and onto our firehouse.”

So the building, which was finished in 2020 and sits to the south of the NIPSCO plant, features a cherry apple red color.

“This is God’s country and all you saw was beautiful green grass,” Hohner said. “It’s nice to be able to add some color out here.”

Besides the color, anyone driving east or west on State Road 10 will also notice the large white cupola on top of the building. That, too, was a Hohner touch.

“That cupola looks much bigger when you see it up close,” said township board member Dave Whitaker. “When it sat in the firehouse, I thought it would be way too big to put on the roof. But when you see it after it’s put up there, it goes great with the rest of the building.”

Members of the township board — including Hohner, who serves as president, Whitaker and Louis Ketchum — as well as township clerk Sue Steinke, township trustee Randy Allen, fire chief Mark Ratliff and Wheatfield firefighters held an open house for the new building on July 31.

Over 200 people took a tour of the building and enjoyed a lunch catered by KV Cafe. Members of the Jasper County Historical Society, led by county historian Judy Kanne, were on hand to display the history of the township, which is populated by around 1,000 people.

Hohner said the firehouse is the biggest major undertaking in the township since Tefft High School was built in 1910.

“And it was done with saved money,” he added. “There are no new tax levies on the taxpayers, no new nothing.”

The total cost of the building came in under $1 million. It trickled over a million when the township was required by the EPA to build a mound septic system to the east of the firehouse.

The building sits on nearly three acres of old farm ground, which was previously owned by Richard Duttlinger. It sits near the Kankakee Township Park, located to the northeast, and a cemetery to the southeast. There is also a quarter-mile paved hiking trail on the property and a large playground area.

Overall, the property covers 80 acres, Hohner said.

Gariup Construction of Gary began work on the building in 2019 just a few months before the COVID-19 pandemic, Whitaker said.

“If they started building it three months later than they did,” he said, “they would have had trouble getting it finished because of COVID.”

“The timing of it happened to work out very well,” Hohner added.

Sebree Architects of Indianapolis designed the building. It was modeled after the firehouse in Walker Township near Kniman.

The Walker Township firehouse was built 10 years ago, Whitaker said.

“We looked at their footprint and thought if it works there, it will work here,” Hohner said. “There were significant changes we made from their plan.”

“We were able to do a couple of things they weren’t able to do at that time,” Whitaker added.

It was a collaborative effort between the township board, trustee and firefighters. Fire chief Ratliff wanted the building to feature drive through doors for the township’s five trucks.

“That saves them the danger of backing up the trucks,” Whitaker said.

The only hiccup in the completion of the building was it didn’t feature locks on the doors. Due to COVID, manufacturers that produce locks were forced to close their plants for several weeks.

The doors have since been fitted with locks.

There are still some extras — like the digging of wells and blacktopping the parking area — that will be addressed in the next couple of years, Whitaker said. Because the building was designed as a warming center and a refuge center in case of a disaster, generators will also be installed near the firehouse.

The open house coincided with the department’s initiation of its new pumper truck, which sat just outside one of the two drive-through doors. The 2,000-gallon truck was purchased from Midwest Fire, a custom fire truck manufacturer in Luverne, Minnesota.

The truck was delivered within 90 days, but the department was unable to officially introduce it due to COVID.

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