Highlands Town Board gets look at HF&R department new plans

At the Town Board’s November meeting last week, Highlands Board of Commissioners were given a brief breakdown of the new Highlands Fire & Rescue facility planned across from the Highlands Post Office at 149 Franklin Road. Plans for the new 2-story facility include barracks, a large bay to house HFR’s emergency vehicles, office, IT room, and a firepole on the approx. 2.5-acre property.

Jane Woodruff sold the land (two parcels) to the town for $1.5 million instead of the $3.7 million listing price. 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.

Mayor Pat Taylor said this project is just one of several that shows Woodruff’s love and support for Highlands. The town will borrow $5.5 million for the purchase of the property and the construction of the new complex. The loan will be with BB&T for a 15-year term and be paid by the fire tax.

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.

Thursday night Chief Gearhart presented the plans to the Board instead of Randy Baker of Pinnacle Architecture, who was unable to attend the meeting.

 The plans for the new facility are not finalized. Gearhart said the plans presented to the board are approx. the fourth rendition and more tweaks will be made. Gearhart answered commissioners’ questions regarding communications, exhaust systems, bay doors, an elevator, and future training.

Still under consideration is using the new facility’s bay as a training area, including anchors on the ceiling for rappelling and rope training. Commissioner Eric Pierson said being able to train indoors would be a big benefit.

“It’s easier to set up training indoors than it is to get everyone together outdoors,” said Pierson. “Plus, being able to train indoors lets them train in inclement weather.”

Gearhart also said HF&R could get by without installing a firepole because the second floor of the facility is not a public area. However, after visiting other fire departments in the area, he said department chiefs would take the liability of having a firepole over having firefighters run downstairs after waking up at 3 a.m. for a call.

Commissioners asked if an elevator was necessary considering the cost, but Gearhart said building the facility with the option of installing an elevator in the future is advisable. Gearhart said once all the tweaks have been made the project will be put out for bid.

Pictured at the top of the article is an image provided to the Board of Commissioners regarding the future Highlands Fire & Rescue facility.

Article by Brian O’Shea
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