Newton revisits new fire station

Newton is again pondering the idea of building a new fire station headquarters.

The current headquarters, located in Newton’s downtown area on West “A” Street, was last renovated in 1958 and has a host of health, safety and space issues that fire and city officials say have needed addressing for quite some time.

“It’s clear that we absolutely need it,” Newton Mayor Anne Stedman said at the city’s annual retreat this month. “It’s not a want anymore.”

A discussion for building a new headquarters has been going on for more than 10 years.

The last formal action on a new, proposed headquarters was taken on March 20, 2002, when the Newton City Council chose to utilize a piece of property located on the 1400 block of N.C. 16 south to design the new fire station. At the time, a former city manager indicated to the council that construction would begin in 2003, said Newton Fire Chief Kevin Yoder.

The city spent nearly $50,000 on the design and schematics of a proposed 19,500-square-foot station that would cost an estimated $2.6 million.
The project was then put on hold.

Now, 10 years later, most council members and city officials agree that a new headquarters is desperately needed.

However, it is unclear when the council will formally address the issue and even more uncertain where the proposed station will go.

Newton City Manager Todd Clark said there is no official calendar for the project yet, but he affirmed that the issue will be brought to council members in the near future.

Though Newton’s council approved a location for a proposed headquarters in 2002, several council members have suggested the city look at multiple alternative sites.

The site that was approved in 2002 is located close to where N.C. 16 and N.C. 10 split near the Food Lion in Newton. The 11.94-acre site, which Newton already owns, would give firemen access to N.C. 10 on one side of the station and N.C. 16 on the other.

“I think the location is good,” Yoder told council members and city officials earlier this month. “You’re going to decrease the overlap of station 1 and 2, but would still have some overlap.”

There have been at least 10 fire stations built for surrounding municipalities since Newton started discussing moving the headquarters in 1999. Like other departments, NFD wants to move its headquarters out of the downtown area to create faster response times and move closer to the potential “life loss” areas, Yoder said.

In addition to its current headquarters downtown, Newton has two other stations — one on Startown Road and one on West 21st Street in the northern part of the city. Yoder said a new headquarters farther east would better disperse NFD’s coverage area and address an area of the city that is growing rapidly.

Newton Councilman Tom Rowe agreed that the headquarters needs to be moved outside the downtown area, but not necessarily to the site approved in 2002.

“We need to get away from where we are downtown,” he said.

Newton Councilman Bill Lutz agreed.

“It makes sense to pull it away from downtown Newton and it would be advantageous to the residents down there,” he said.

Clark said the city is evaluating several potential sites that were recommended by council members.

“The chief is looking at a number of different potential locations and as part of that, we need to do a pretty thorough investigation of the sites,” Clark said.

Structural, space issues

The current design for a new headquarters features a new training room, exercise room, bedroom area, four drive-through truck bays and much more space — amenities and features that Yoder says would solve “all the issues” with the current Station 1.

The current headquarters was renovated in 1958, but it’s unclear when the building was actually built, Yoder said.

Throughout the past 50 years, the Bowstring Truss construction design has started to crack, crumble and dissolve away — literally.

The walls of the fire department have started moving outward, and there are seven major cracks in one load-bearing wall inside the truck bay. As the building has shifted, the roof has also started pulling back.

This week, Yoder showed The O-N-E how pieces of the roof have detached in spots. He pulled back on a large piece of roofing Monday afternoon, exposing a plethora of rotted wood underneath.

Floor tile in the truck bay has also continued to crack and pull up throughout the years, and there are a large number of hollow areas underneath a floor that supports several-thousand-pound fire engines.

“If you walk through the bay, you can bang a broom stick on the ground and hear where the floor has hollow parts,” Yoder said.

The fire station is also more than strapped for space.

The fire station’s records, which are kept in the attic, can only be accessed by climbing a ladder, ducking into a small hole, hopping up two wooden beams and perusing through boxes of reports, fire training forms and other documents.

Inside, there’s only one male/female bathroom in the station, and three people use a single office space.

“The list goes on and on,” Yoder said. “There’s just not enough space.”