Council weighs fire station options

Discussion over Fire Station No. 2 monopolized the latter portion of the Demopolis City Council meeting Thursday evening.

Demopolis Mayor Mike Grayson laid out a handful of options for the downtown building, which was a source of controversy under the previous administration.

“I think we need Fire Station No. 2, somewhere. The last estimate that we got was that it would take $750,000 to renovate Fire Station No. 2 where it is right now. That does not include any environmental testing or anything like that,” Grayson said in introducing the matter to the council. “Option No. 1 is to renovate it for an estimated cost of $750,000. Option No. 2 is to move across Cedar Street and try to establish a building behind the Municipal Complex.”

The third option Grayson outlined for the council included abandoning the building either by way of selling the structure or demolishing it.

“In my professional opinion, it is not salvageable,” City Councilman Charles Jones said, referencing his background in construction.

Jones spoke favorably of the prospect of establishing a new station and focused on the possibilities that could exist with such a move.

“I kind of want to move (fire department administrators) in down there so we can have a public safety sector,” Jones said, noting the merits of establishing a public safety sector downtown.

When Bill Meador addressed the matter, he noted the amount of money that had already been spent on building Fire Station No. 3.

“I have several thoughts on this. I’m not sure we need three stations. We have three stations,” Meador said. “We just spent around $700,000 on Station No. 3. This building is historic and I would like to see us save it at a minimal cost. If we don’t do anything with it, I think we need to sell it.”

Jones compared the estimated renovation amount of $750,000 to the amount the city spent on the Municipal Complex.

“You’re talking $750,000 to renovate a building when you just built a brand new building for $750,000,” Jones said. Jones went on to note that any new station should have at least three bays in order to accommodate any potential department growth.

“If you build a station, you should build it to be functional for not just today, but for tomorrow too,” Jones said.

“I’m not writing it in blood that it will be only two bays. But I will tell you that I am adamantly opposed to spending $750,000 on that building down there,” Grayson said.

The mayor went on to note that the renovation estimate does not include testing and other expenses that could rapidly increase the cost of the project.

“We could be over the $1 million mark in a hurry,” Grayson said. “I’m in favor of Fire Station No. 2. I’m in favor of Fire Station No. 2 as the most functional thing that we can do.”

When asked his opinion by the council, Demopolis Fire and Rescue Department Chief Tommy Tate openly weighed the merits and drawbacks of each option.

“If you get a new station, you can design it the way you want it. It will be modern. It will be efficient,” Tate said.

As the discussion drew to a close, Meador noted the inconsistency that would exist in the council spending upwards of $750,000 on a new fire station when it had previously proven reluctant to spend $6,600 on a new air conditioner for the library.

“We certainly have to look at grant opportunities. We’re arguing over $6,600 over (at the library) and now we’re talking about $750,000 (on Fire Station No. 2),” Meador said.

As the council readied to table the discussion, Grayson reminded the city’s governing body of the urgency of the matter, noting that the structure is a key variable in Demopolis’ downtown equation.

“It’s time for us to do something, even if it’s wrong,” Grayson said. “In my opinion, it is an eyesore. We have got to clean that up. Even if we move, we have got to clean that corner up.”

As the discussion turned more toward the historical value of the building, Grayson said he appreciated the history of the city but firmly stated his stance on where he draws his nostalgic line.

When our history shackles our future, something has got to change,” Grayson said.

The final comment on the matter brought levity to the situation as Jones noted the inherent difficulties of finding a buyer for the current Fire Station No. 2, a building that was gifted to the city several years ago.

“You’ve got to keep in mind that Robertson Bank gave it to us for a reason,” Jones said.

Other matters covered in the meeting included the tabling of a discussion regarding the Demopolis Public Library’s need for an air conditioning unit. The project currently has one bid. The council voted to table the matter in favor of finding additional bidders for the project.

The council voted to allow Demopolis Police Department Chief Tommie Reese to apply for a COPS grant for the purpose of funding needed equipment.

The council also voted to allow the city’s Parks and Recreation Department to negotiate with the Demopolis City Schools Board of Education on a rental agreement regarding a small field near Demopolis Middle School that would be used seasonally for DMS softball practice.