January 16, 2015
Susan Robertson

JAMES CITY – From the rear of the apparatus bay at the James City-Bruton Volunteer Fire Department, firefighters can see a glimpse of the future.

What are now footings and partial walls of concrete block rising from behind the almost four-decade old fire station will soon become the department’s new home. By December, the $6.3 million replacement for the nearly 50-year-old Fire Station No. 1 is expected to be complete.

Built in 1966, the current fire station is showing its age in an ever-growing list of structural issues.

“This building is absolutely on its last legs, so we’ll be happy to get into the new building,” said Phillip Murdock, president of the volunteer department.

Settling problems and water intrusion have plagued the fire station in recent years. When cold wet weather arrived early last week, Murdock pointed to a large trash can in the apparatus bay that was more than half full thanks to a steady leak in the roof. He added that noticeable drafts aren’t uncommon either.

In 2012, the building was identified as a critical need following an engineering analysis that pointed to numerous issues. After discussions of a new facility began, Volunteer Chief David Nice said building a new fire station was determined to be more cost effective than repairing the current one, which was constructed by the volunteers without taxpayer money.

Murdock said the James City-Bruton Volunteer Fire Department covers more than 100 miles, stretching from the Chickahominy River to the York River. An audit of the volunteer fire department from 2013 revealed that it saved James City County about $1.5 million per year, he noted during early discussions of the project.

During a storm in 2014, Murdock said volunteer firefighters ran 21 calls in a two-hour period and never had to call for assistance from another station. Nice said he’s proud the county recognizes not only the work, but the savings generated by the volunteer operation, and that’s a big part of why it stepped in to fund the project.

Guernsey-Tingle Architects designed the new fire station, according to Shawn Gordon, capital projects coordinator for James City County. He noted that at 21,791 square feet, the building will be nearly twice the size of the existing one. It will feature design elements of Toano High School, which operated on the same site as the fire station until 1954.

About 10 miles away, Station 4 on Olde Towne Road is in the midst of a $4.1 million project to replace its building. The project in November 2013 and should be complete in April of this year.

Nice said site work began in August, and the start of construction followed in October. The biggest benefit of building slightly behind the current building has been the ability to maintain normal operations, according to Murdock. He said so far it’s been “pretty seamless.”

He said the biggest disruption has been parking. That’s because much of the parking lot has been demolished for construction. Nice said surrounding businesses have been generous in offering overflow parking options, adding that volunteers and community members are also utilizing the farmer’s market across the street.

Firefighters also had to rearrange the trucks and equipment in the apparatus bay to ensure they could get everything out the front doors since the back is blocked by the foundation of the new building.

“I think, at the end of this,” Nice said. “We will be the best backing up people ever because that’s all we do.”

The county’s purchase of the property to the rear of the fire station, which was known as the Crawford Property, at a cost of $390,000 was a crucial part of the project. Nice explained that it allowed for the rear property line to be adjusted and the site to extend further back, facilitating simultaneous operation and construction.

Gordon said the new fire station will feature more offices, training facilities, and separate bunk rooms for men and women. He explained it was designed to be energy efficient, and will hopefully receive a LEED silver certification. It will even have a fire pole.

Another feature Nice is excited about is the large community room. He said the building is a real hub of activity in Toano and he’d gotten a lot of positive feedback about the new facilities. He recalled one call from a man who said he was excited about the tone the building would set for the Toano community.

While the building will be completed in December, Gordon explained that three months were built into the construction schedule to allow for razing of the current building and finishing work, such as the new concrete apron in front where fire engines and ambulances will leave the bays. Final completion is anticipated in March 2016, about two months ahead of the contract schedule.

Copyright © 2015, Virginia Gazette

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