Weddington funds engineering study, merger talks continue
Before any decisions are made on the Providence Fire Department’s future, local officials want some more data. The Weddington town council agreed Monday, April 11 to pay an estimated $45,000 for an engineering study of the current fire station, located at 5025 Hemby Road, to see the extent of what repairs are needed.
In March, the department came to the town’s planning retreat, asking for $450,000 to do repairs on the building that includes installing a sprinkler system for the first time, building a staircase to the building’s sleeping quarters and designing a fire wall. The fire wall is a barrier inside the building designed to limit a fire’s spread. Combined with a $240,000 request for staff funding, the town would spend an amount more than half of their annual $1.1 million budget to fix the fire station.
“In 1985, it was (built) to code,” Weddington Mayor Nancy Anderson said. “We changed the occupancy of the building, when we asked for people to stay there overnight.”
As Weddington grew over the past decade, the town council agreed in 2008 to pay for three firefighters to stay overnight, for a quick response time to local fires. Providence Board of Directors Vice President Jack Parks said the building was never designed for that.
“What’s changed is the intended use,” Parks said. “The building was never designed (to be) a dormitory, for people to be sleeping there. When the station was built, there was some concern even at that time (about size).”
The problems, Parks said, extends past just the requested repairs, as the department also has to deal with issues such as being at the maximum septic capacity allowed by their county permit. Providence has struggled financially in recent months, with the department running into a $99,694 deficit in November. Weddington helped temporarily by giving the department $162,000, the remainder of its funding for the fiscal year, which runs from July 1 to June 30. The town pays $210,300 to Providence each year.
Those problems, along with the possibility of more issues being uncovered, are what drove council members to delay a vote on repairing the station.
“What scares us to death is we could build a heck of a house for $450,000 and you haven’t even opened up the walls yet (to see the full extent of needed repairs),” Weddington Mayor Pro Tem Daniel Barry said. “We’re not gonna write a check to the department and then say tell us when the open house is.”
The council also is concerned about how they would fund the requested repairs. The full bill would cost $720,850 for repairs and requests for salary funding, pushing the council $375,000 in the negative for this year’s budget. That means in order to fund the project, Weddington would have to draw $342,850 from its fund balance.
“I think we’re discussing bad news and horrible news,” Barry said. “None of us like the issue, all of us understand we need to get the firehouse fixed.”
Searching for alternatives
In order to delay the major expenses, Weddington council members questioned why a mobile home trailer couldn’t be placed behind the station, to handle the overnight members. The problem with that, Weddington town planner Jordan Cook explained, was that such a plan would violate the town’s own land use ordinance, which calls for only one principal building on a lot. The town couldn’t change that ordinance without amending the entire land use ordinance, meaning such a change would affect the entire area.
“(A trailer) doesn’t solve the problem moving forward,” Parks told the council. “If we had to sprinkle a modular building, the sprinkler system would cost more than the building.” He estimated the system at $80,000, with $38,000 of that going to the underground portion, where they would have to tap into the water main. Parks also said it would cost between $20,000-25,000 for a fire alarm.
“It’s a commercial building, there are different requirements,” Parks said, stating that was why the costs were higher.
“It’s like the iceberg the Titanic hit, what you see is only a part of the problem,” Weddington council member Werner Thomisser said. “I’m concerned about the hidden costs we’re not looking at.”