GVFRS places contract on Booker property

by Quinton Sheppard - Posted on Jul 10, 2019 - 01:39 PM

Photo: The Gloucester Volunteer Fire and Rescue Squad, Inc., has placed a contingency contract on the Booker property, shown here, to potentially construct a new fire station there. The Main Street property includes the Tri-County Furniture Store and former hotel next door. Photo by Quinton Sheppard

The Gloucester Volunteer Fire and Rescue Squad, Inc., has placed a contingency contract on the Booker property, shown here, to potentially construct a new fire station there. The Main Street property includes the Tri-County Furniture Store and former hotel next door. Photo by Quinton Sheppard

The Gloucester Volunteer Fire and Rescue Squad, Inc., has placed a contingency contract on the Tri-County Furniture store and adjacent property in hopes of building a new fire station there. 

The news was announced at the Gloucester County Board of Supervisors’ July 2 meeting in the colonial courthouse. The fire department hopes that the county supervisors will assist them in funding construction of the new facility down the road, GVFRS chief J.D. Clements indicated.

Clements said it would cost his organization an estimated $10.2 million to refurbish its current Station #1 at the intersection of Walker Avenue and Main Street to bring it up to National Fire Protection Agency standards. It would cost slightly less than that—$10.1 million—to build a brand-new facility, he said.

Also, if the department opts to stay in its current location, there would be an additional cost of well over $1 million to construct a temporary facility for the organization to house and operate its apparatus so that fire and EMS service would remain uninterrupted. 

Clements said when the department learned the store, adjacent old hotel and property, known as the Booker property, were for sale, it was immediately interested. “It’s not bisected by a state-maintained street and we felt it would be a good fit for what we’re trying to do,” Clements said. 

Several residents spoke during last week’s meeting, and were mixed on whether they supported the move. 

Ordinary resident David Peebles said he thought the best place for a future firehouse would be on the Route 17 bypass just outside of the village area. Meanwhile, Theresa Stavens, speaking on behalf of the Gloucester Main Street Preservation Trust, asked that the fire department and governing body consider the future needs of the county as a whole, including the potential impacts on the historic district and its businesses and residents in years to come.

Others thought that GVFRS should be able to do whatever it wants. “If the fire department wants to buy (the Booker property), I don’t see why it needs to be any more complicated than that,” said Ark resident Michael Hedrick. 

GMSA statement

Jennifer Haggerty, executive director of the Gloucester Main Street Association, read from a prepared statement on behalf of the association’s board of directors.

“Our organization is committed to enhancing the quality of life of the Gloucester Main Street downtown village, supporting the long-term economic development growth plans of Gloucester County and supporting businesses and entrepreneurial development throughout the downtown,” Haggerty said.

“The Gloucester Main Street Association values its relationship with the residents, businesses, government entities and private organizations along the Main Street corridor,” she added. Among the relationships the GMSA values, she said, is the one with the GVFRS. “We appreciate the work they and all the other emergency responders do in our community on a daily basis,” she said.

Speaking of the GVFRS’ seeking funding to construct a new fire station on the Booker property, Haggerty urged the board of supervisors to seek feedback from other entities.

“As you look to determine how to allocate resources, we encourage you to invite comment, questions and consultation from economic development officials, site selectors with expertise in long-range emergency service planning and members of the community to provide you with feedback,” Haggerty said. “The Gloucester Main Street Association stands ready to support your thoughtful consideration of the highest and best use for these properties as well as the long-term emergency management planning of our community.”

Clements said it is important to the GVFRS organization that it remains integrated within the community, and that is why it wants to keep Station #1 in the Court House. He added that VDOT does not allow ingress or egress onto the Route 17 bypass, so that is not a viable option.

According to Clements, the organization has enough money to purchase the property, but due to continued recovery from the recession and limited funding for its capital needs, it has not been able to save enough money to cover the costs of constructing a new station.

He also said that the Court House area is the easiest place for volunteers to get in and out of. It is also central to its large service area and for volunteers who often respond to calls from work or home.

York district supervisor Phillip Bazzani asked whether there were any fire departments in adjacent areas where their design would fit Gloucester’s needs. GVFRS treasurer Lewis Horsley said there is one on the Eastern Shore that would potentially fit the needs of GVFRS and that they could potentially obtain architectural drawings from that organization to save some costs.

At-large supervisor Ashley Chriscoe said that until the GVFRS gets further along and gets some concrete numbers for construction costs for what it wants to do, then the board will be able to consider how much the county may be able to help with the new building. Until then, the county will facilitate some meetings to bring the various community members and entities together to provide input into the planning process of the new station.