By Lyra Bordelon
The Lewisburg Fire Department is looking forward to building a new, comprehensive fire station on Grand Avenue near Lewisburg Cinema 8 after a land deal was recently struck. Although more work remains, such as core drilling, engineering, and ample construction, the $300,000 per acre deal could get the greatly expanded department out of a downtown building they have long outgrown.
“It’ll be a nice place,” said Lewisburg Fire Chief Joe Thomas. “My hopes, and I know the mayor’s (Beverly White) hopes, are to move in 2022, as long as we don’t have any major glitches. … It hasn’t been surveyed to know exactly how big it is yet, our plan is to purchase two acres, two and a half, somewhere around here.”
The agreement was stuck between Barnette Development, who owned the land, and the city of Lewisburg, allowing them to purchase the land for the firehouse before it went to market. Diana Barnette, a member of Barnette Development, was critical to this process.
“I contacted her to see if she was interested in selling it, and she was getting ready to put the whole [property] on the market,” Thomas explained. “She held off long enough for us to go figure out whether this would work for us.”
Now that a deal is in place, the department goes on to the next step – core drilling and design. A geological survey will be conducted on the proposed site, across the street from the still-under-construction hotel, and the city will seek an engineer to finalize the building’s design.
“Hopefully, as long as we don’t find a cave underneath it or anything, we should be okay,” Thomas said. “The design we have [is tentative], it’s got to go to the architect and everything. We need four pull-through bays, so it’ll actually be eight bays [for vehicle and fire engine storage]. We’ll have four on each side of the building. We’re looking somewhere around eight offices, six or eight bedrooms, training facility, conference room, weight room. My hope is to be able to do a metal building … with a brick facade, to make it go quicker.”
The search for the right property to build on inside of the city was difficult – the Barnette Development property allows for the needed space, but does come with a drawback.
“I don’t think there is a perfect spot,” Thomas explained. “This is little farther north than perfect would have been, probably, but trying to find something [is difficult]. It keeps us in the covered distance for the latter truck for the city. We can be downtown for anything. We do lose a little bit of coverage west of town, a little bit of coverage in Caldwell, on the five-mile radius.”
However, the Lewisburg Fire Department needs space – the downtown firestation “may make a good building for somebody,” but is no longer able to accommodate the growing department. Located on Foster Street, the building has been a Lewisburg City Council concern for years and has kept the department from expanding alongside the larger workforce and fleet.
“We’re trying to get everything out of the weather,” Thomas said. “We’ve got two large trailers that sit out in the weather, a couple of our smaller trucks … that we’d like to get inside. If we ever add to the fleet, we’ve talked about, in the future, adding a rescue truck, right now we have no base space. Something like that gets added on, you want to make sure you have space for it – it’s in our five year window in our [comprehensive] plan to add that in, but you can’t add it until you have a place to put it.”
The price of the deal is still uncertain – the land can be purchased at $300,000 per acre, and there are at least two acres available, but the exact amount will not be known until the property is completely surveyed. Thomas estimates $750,000 to be the approximate final price of the land. After this, there is core drilling, engineering, and construction costs left to consider. The total price, including everything, was previously estimated around $3.3 million, but this estimate could be old.
“I don’t know if we can build it for that now because that we also [when] we started this in 2010, 2011,” Thomas said. “The city started setting money, back in 2011, into a fund. Right now there’s enough to purchase the property, probably go through all the studies, probably go through architectural [engineering], and still have enough leftover to start. At that point the city is going to have to figure out funding for the actual building itself.”
Currently the savings account has approximately $1.2 million ready to go for expenses. The old fire station, after the department moves, would be placed for public auction if the city has no use for it.
In the contract, the seller also agreed to be “solely responsible” for completing the road adjacent to the property that connects Grand Avenue and Carpenter Drive and grant temporary easements and permanent easements for entrance and exits to the station. The contract also contains contingencies that could alter the deal, such as potential results from geotechnical engineering studies (such as core drilling) that would determine if the property would be suitable for the firehouse and the formal approval of the agreement by the Lewisburg City Council.