By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: January 31, 2019 | 12:30 p.m.
PRINCE GEORGE – Following months of complaints and years of it being part of the county’s capital improvement plan, supervisors are now looking to accelerate the process for developing and building a replacement for the aging Jefferson Park Fire Station.
This month, supervisors were briefed by county finance director and deputy county administrator Betsy Drewry about their work to analyze the impacts of a fire station on the county’s budget, particularly its capital improvement plan after some board members have asked for the project to be included in the county’s upcoming spring borrowing.
Jefferson Park Fire Station has become one of the county’s most active stations but also the one that the community has expressed concerns about following structural issues inside the building.
According to data provided by Fire and EMS Director Brad Owens in 2017, back when a proposed partnership between Tri-Cities ER and the county was floated, it was revealed that the Jefferson Park Station, known as Company 5, has seen an increase in calls particularly in the Puddledock area as that area of the county grows in both residential and commercial avenues.
Jefferson Park Fire Station’s current bays leave little room to move between units inside the facility that is well into its 30s in terms of age. Officials are now looking to move the facility down the street into a new state-of-the-art building, using money in the upcoming borrowing to do it.
Over the last several months in the prior year, residents have said they are concerned about the impact the building’s well-known issues, such as its foundation, cracking in walls, among others could have on the future of the building and fire and rescue response in the area.
According to Owens, the station was built in 1987 during a time when the county was fighting annexation from the cities of Hopewell and Petersburg and was seen by local leaders as a portion of the county that was growing.
“The county had to scramble and put in some public safety measures in that area so the fire station was built,” he said.
At that time, the effects of shrink-swell soil were not as known as they are now, Owens explained. Shrink-swell soil, also known as expansive soil, refers to soils that can change significantly in volume based on their moisture content.
According to American Prince Home Inspections, “Soils with this shrink/swell potential create difficult performance problems for buildings constructed on these soils. As the soil water content increases, the soil swells and heaves upward. As the soil water content decreases, the soil shrinks and the ground surface recedes and pulls away from the foundation.”
That has resulted in cracks throughout the building and other foundation-related issues for the fire station.
“Over the years, we have dealt with some issues with the foundations with the walls cracking and things like that,” Owens explained. “Over the years, they have tried to do things to keep it going as that area around the station continues to grow and its one of the highest call load areas in the county.”
“It has served its purpose for what it was built for in 1987, but they have outgrown it,” he said. “We are now running an ambulance, EMS out of the building where before it was just for fire protection so they have a very active membership there that interacts with our career staff who pull duty together so we have a lot of people who are there so it is about time.”
According to county documents, officials are placing the cost of a new station in the ballpark of $3.2 million, stressing that the number is purely a placeholder and the true cost of the building “will require fine tuning as discussions continue regarding [the] design and type of station.”
According to Drewry, some savings could be found in using one of the county’s recent stations as a guide for the new Jefferson Park Fire Station – Carson and the in-progress Route 10 stations.
Completed in 2017, the Carson fire station was built for $2.2 million, while the station currently being built along Moody Road and Route 10 has had $2.9 million budgeted to the project that should reach substantial completion by the spring.
For Owens, given the growth of the population of the station and community surrounding it, the current fire station doesn’t meet their needs.
Cracks in walls and other structural issues are commonplace and have been well-documented during the history of the Jefferson Park Fire Station’s lifespan, with the soil the station’s foundation is built upon deemed to be the culprit.
“It really wasn’t designed for living quarters so, the volunteers doing their staffing programs and the career staff being there 24-7, we have had to make a lot of modifications to allow that so it is time to really have a building that was designed to have people around the clock there with adequate facilities, meeting and training rooms, and space for the apparatuses,” he said.
The site for the station would be likely along Brandywine Road, which links directly to Jefferson Park Road. This property would allow for better access for fire engines to get into and out of the station and feature a flashing traffic signal to help with the flow of emergency vehicles out of the station, something that has been a challenge for the station with the county’s growth.
“It does get the main station off Jefferson Park Road which, right now, we have had to modify how we get into the station,” Owens said. “Years ago, we used to just back right in. Now, with the increased traffic coming down Jefferson Park Road, that is very dangerous so we now bring them around the back where we bring regular cars and vehicles for the volunteers. Over the years we have tried to adapt to using that building.”
“As for the citizens,” he continued, “they will not see any sort of change in the services because we would relocate right down the street.”
Officials have tasked Davenport with running the numbers of how exactly adding this project to the county’s spring borrowing will affect the coming year’s issuance of bonds.
According to county records, so far there are just over $6 million in projects funded in the county spring borrowing, ranging from $2.4 million for the Route 156 water main extension project, another $1.8 million for the Food Lion water system upgrade in that area of the county, and $400,000 as part of the police vehicle replacement program, among others.
Add the preliminary estimate of $3.5 million to the borrow to fund the new Jefferson Park Fire Station, the total borrowing rises to $9.2 million.
Another multimillion variable in the project is the proposed new elementary school. Currently sitting at an estimated cost of $34 million, officials with the county said they will look at this project separately for its fiscal impacts.
If all projects, including the elementary school, were funded in the spring borrowing, this year’s issuance would eclipse $43.5 million.
No decision on the school has been made after supervisors received fresh data on the school’s tax rate impacts during their December 2018 meeting.
Nothing has been discussed publicly among supervisors regarding the school’s location after hearing from school officials and teachers who want the new school to be built at the current Walton Elementary School site.
In regards to the fire station, Drewry said Davenport, their financial analysis contractors, will have a draft document ready by the end of January.