Jane Woodruff has done it again. Thanks to her years of philanthropic work Highlands has a civic building at the Rec Park, a hospital, and a post office. Now Highlands is about to get a new, expanded fire department and training facility on the 2.48 acres Woodruff had for sale at 149 Franklin Road – the old deVille property.
Times have changed for the Highlands Fire & Rescue Department. There is a need for 24/7 staffing, compliance with new regulations concerning safety and space requirements and the need for onsite housing for those on call.
Over the years, fire alarms, first-responder calls, motor vehicle accidents and search and rescue calls have increased dramatically and having an all-volunteer department is no longer viable.
For the past three years, the town has been looking for the biggest bang for its buck in regard to changes at the fire department. Commissioners considered renovating the current building or buying in-town property to build a new complex.
Renovations to the current building ended up not working due to underlying rock, the lay of the land and new criteria.
However, finding affordable property in downtown Highlands proved to be an obstacle until Woodruff came along.
She generously offered to sell the 2.48 acres (two parcels) to the town for $1.5 million instead of the $3.7 million listing price.
“As mayor I am very gratified that the Town of Highlands will be able to purchase the property across from the Highlands Post Office [between PNC Bank and Main Street Nursery] for the purpose of building a new fire station. It will have an aesthetic design that will complement the surrounding buildings and add to the appearance of the downtown area,” said Mayor Pat Taylor.
An increase in the fire tax from one cent per $100 valuation to three cents will bring in the money needed to buy the property and build the building. Even with the two-cent increase, Highlands still has the lowest fire tax in the county.
“I want to thank Ms. Jane Woodruff for selling this prime commercial property to the town at a significantly reduced price. She was very supportive of locating the fire department in this beautiful and critically located piece of property,” said Taylor. “We both agree that this facility will serve the Highlands community for many decades to come. This project is just one of several that shows Ms. Woodruff’s love and support for our community.”
Mayor Taylor said Pat Allen of Pat Allen Realty Group, the listing agent for the property worked with Woodruff and the town to make sure this project moved forward.
“When we finalized the deal in my office, Jane and the Mayor expressed how honored they were to meet,” said Pat Allen. “It was a sweet and joyful moment. I’m delighted that I could help the town as well.”
HF&R Chief Ryan Gearhart said state requirements dictated what a new fire station complex needed in terms of land.
“In order for the fire department to get full credit for training through the ISO system, the state requires the training facility to be on 2+ acres,” he said.
According to Town Manager Josh Ward, a contract has been signed but the purchase is contingent on the approval of the Local Government Commission (LGC) for the town to borrow $5.5 million for the purchase of the property and the construction of a new building.
If the LGC approves the request, the loan will be applied for through BB&T for a 15-year term and paid by the fire tax.
Ward said the process will take several months.
Aside from the financials, Gearhart said there are still several steps to complete before they break ground on the new site.
“We are in the process of getting a topo survey and plans drawn which are steps one and two. We will then need to get a bid number ($) for the construction of the building, and then go through the loan process. But we are really excited about this endeavor,” he said.
Ward said in order to receive bids for the construction, the project architect needs to complete the design for the building and submit for bids. The bid for construction, along with the purchase price of the property will then be submitted to the LGC for approval.
With no obstacles in sight, a new, expanded HF&R department at a new location is on the horizon.
“It’s my pleasure,” said Woodruff. “I am happy to be a part of our new fire station!”
By Kim Lewicki