Friday, January 27, 2023

No second fire station in Williamsburg…for now

(WYDaily file/Andrew Harris)
(WYDaily file/Andrew Harris)

The Williamsburg City Council voted Thursday to demolish and rebuild its fire station, which entirely changes a council plan approved only 17 months ago.

City Council discussed the various options for rebuilding, renovating and reconstruction a second fire station in the city. The discussion came after a presentation this week from Guernsey Tingle that questioned a previous 2019 council decision.

The city has been working on the possibility of building a new fire station for a number of years after a 2018 study showed it was needed to improve response times in the area. The current station was also shown to need a number of improvements.

Just 17 months ago the City Council approved building an additional fire station and renovating the current structure with a budget of $11.2 million.

Consultants from Guernsey Tingle this week provided City Council a new report that questioned the previous plans and continued to highlight issues with the current station. In it’s new report, the company estimated the project would now cost between $16.7 million and $20.3 million.

Councilman Ted Maslin on Thursday expressed a “sincere frustration” with the changes in plans and how they were presented.

“The agenda item summary gives the impression that staff is merely updating the progress on the…two-station project approved 17 months ago by the City Council, [but] nothing could be further from the truth,” he said. “Not only is that project more than a year behind schedule, one can question whether staff had any intention to accomplish it.”

Maslin expressed concern there wasn’t enough time between Monday’s work session and Thursday’s meeting for the public to be properly involved in the process. He also highlighted possible mistakes from Monday’s presentation, saying consultants misspoke when they said there would be no footage increase for Fire Station One in the previously proposed plan. Upon further inspection, Maslin said he found a 2019 budget spreadsheet that includes the addition of 2,000 square feet to the station.

He also suggested parts of the proposed plan seemed “half-baked,” such as the plan for temporary facilities which he said appeared to be added at the last minute and needed more concrete details.

Maslin said the new proposed plan, which would cost significantly more, did not seem feasible especially considering the financial uncertainty created by the coronavirus pandemic. 

“The City Council is being asked to spend more money on a project which no longer provides [the] community benefit of response time throughout the whole community,” he said. “[The City Council] is being asked to spend more money on a project which no longer provides an economic development boost to the Capitol Landing corridor.”

Mayor Doug Pons said accusing staff and professionals of being misleading was “extremely insulting” and “an embarrassment to this body.”

Vice Mayor Pat Dent also disagreed with the new changes to the plan, saying the plan to renovate the current fire station and build a second station seemed like the best option to address issues of response time.

“I think…from what we saw on Monday, obviously this is a huge decision when you’re talking about a capital project that could involve [millions] of dollars,” he said. 

Other council members felt differently about the changes to the project.

Councilwoman Barbara Ramsey, who originally supported the second fire station plan in 2019, said she has learned through calls with residents and looking at increased population growth in the area that the need for a more modern fire station is greater than simply renovating the current structure. 

“We have the funding to construct such a state-of-the-art fire station and I think this should be a top priority,” she said. 

Councilman Caleb Rogers also said he felt the amount of renovations needed to the fire station were so great that an entirely new structure would have to be built in the future regardless.

Ramsey submitted a motion to demolish the current fire station and build a new $14.5 million fire station on its location at 440 N. Boundary St.

That proposal rescinds the city’s previously approved plan to build a second station and allows the city manager to move forward with plans to design a new station at the current location. It also states the city will continue the planning process for a second fire station in the next five to seven years.

The motion was approved by Pons, Ramsey and Rogers. Dent and Maslin voted against it. Maslin said moving forward, he hopes projects such as this one will have side-by-side comparisons for changes and a clearer outline for public engagement.

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Alexa Doiron
Alexa Doironhttp://wydaily.com
Alexa Doiron is a multimedia reporter for WYDaily. She graduated from Roanoke College and is currently working on a master’s degree in English at Virginia Commonwealth University. Alexa was born and raised in Williamsburg and enjoys writing stories about local flair. She began her career in journalism at the Warhill High School newspaper and, eight years later, still loves it. After working as a news editor in Blacksburg, Va., Alexa missed Williamsburg and decided to come back home. In her free time, she enjoys reading Jane Austen and playing with her puppy, Poe. Alexa can be reached at alexa@localvoicemedia.com.

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