Construction of a new fire-EMS station in Glade Hill will go forward despite criticism of its cost and rejection by members of the volunteer organization that would use it.
The Franklin County Board of Supervisors approved the $5.3 million project Tuesday with a tense 4-3 vote after dais-pounding speeches from both sides.
The vote was a long time coming. Discussion of building a combined home for the Glade Hill Volunteer Fire Department and the county-staffed Glade Hill EMS Station goes back to at least 2011. The volunteer fire department operates from a 1960s-are firehouse.
The board arrived at Tuesday’s meeting with a deadline hanging over them. They had until Saturday to accept the lowest bid, $4.8 million, and allow a Gretna construction company to start work on the chosen site at Virginia 40 and Turtle Hill Road. Missing the deadline meant starting the bidding process over.
First faced with this decision during an Aug. 17 meeting, Union Hall Supervisor Tommy Cundiff, the proposed station’s primary advocate, requested a month’s delay so that he could meet with the volunteer firefighters objecting to the project and iron out differences. Cundiff’s district includes Glade Hill, and he has touted the fire station as an essential piece needed for the community to grow.
Volunteer firefighters who attended the August meeting appreciated the delay, saying they had concerns that under the arrangement their equipment and vehicles would end up controlled by paid county staff, paving the way toward shutting their organization down.
However, architectural firm Thompson & Litton concluded that making the changes volunteers requested would be so drastic that the project would no longer fit within the scope of the $4.8 million bid, county Capital Projects Manager Mike Thurman told the board Tuesday.
During the debate that followed Thurman’s presentation to the board, Blackwater District Representative Ronnie Mitchell waved a letter given to him that day, signed by 20 members of the Glade Hill Volunteer Fire Department, including the department chief, declaring they would refuse to use the new building if the current design went forward.
“How did it come to this point? This is an absolute disaster,” Mitchell said.
Cundiff retorted that over the years the station was planned, “a volunteer firefighter has been in every meeting. Every meeting. And then for somebody to come up and say they won’t consider it? Totally wrong. Totally wrong.” These issues could have been raised years ago but never were, he said.
Gills Creek Supervisor Lorie Smith and Blue Ridge Supervisor Tim Tatum voiced their opposition to the station. Tatum said the county should be helping volunteer companies design and build their own stations, while Smith balked at the Glade Hill price tag, $2 million higher than estimated.
However, Rocky Mount Supervisor Mike Carter and Snow Creek Supervisor Leland Mitchell sided with Cundiff. “If you trash this project, are you going to start another one?” Mitchell asked, wondering what the cost would be to start again from scratch.
Board Chair Ronnie Thompson held the deciding vote, and he reserved his comments until just before the votes were cast. He stated that there are also members of the Glade Hill Volunteer Fire Department who are willing to staff the new building.
“It’s not a time for our county to be divided and to be split,” he said. “It’s not a time for people to say I’m going to get my little red wagon and go home. It’s time to work together for the greater good of the community.”
Thompson voted last, giving the fire station the go-ahead.