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September 15, 2017

Supervisors reluctantly OK Orlean fire station plan

Click above to watch animation of plans for Orlean station.
For me, it’s a perfect example of what happens when previous boards kick the can down the road and offers no clear direction or parameters to a project.
— Board of supervisors Chairman Rick Gerhardt
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Staff Journalist
The Orlean Volunteer Fire and Rescue Department finally will get a new station.

Fauquier’s board of supervisors Thursday night voted, 4-1, to approve the $6.9 million project.

The Orlean department has awarded a $5.6-million contract to Winchester-based Lantz Construction Co. for site work and construction of the 18,400-square-foot building.

The long-awaited project could be completed in about 13 months, Fauquier Volunteer Fire/Rescue Association President Tom Marable said. It will replace a station that dates to 1973.

For more than nine years, the proposal had at times produced intense debate because of the price tag and the relatively few emergency calls the volunteers and county career firefighter/medics stationed at Orlean handle.

Delays significantly increased the projects costs, Mr. Marable said.

For example, “soft costs” — design and engineering— for a station “normally” total about $475,000, he said. But, previous boards’ decisions to “stop” the project three times, increased those costs to $560,000, Mr. Marable added.

Despite numerous setbacks, Mr. Marable had little doubt the project eventually would get approved.

“Somebody was going to have to build it either now or later, unless the government was going to decide not to provide service to that location,” he said.

The station has 42 active volunteers on its roster; two career firefighter/medics work 12-hour shifts — 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. — Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

During 2017, the volunteers and career staffers responded to 294 calls, according to the county dispatch center. 

Supervisors Mary Leigh McDaniel (Marshall District), Chris Butler (Lee), Rick Gerhardt (Cedar Run) and Chris Granger (Center District) supported the project.

Holder Trumbo (Scott District) voted against it, largely because of the cost versus call volume.

“Nobody’s happy about this project,” said Supervisor McDaniel, who represents the Orlean area. “It’s too big, too expensive for a low (emergency-call) volume area.”

But, “none of us has been able to come up with a better solution,” she added.

Mrs. McDaniel pledged to “try very hard to make sure this board does not” put future county supervisors in the same situation.

“We’re trying to build appropriate-sized fire stations in the appropriate places,” she said.

Mr. Granger, a Prince William battalion chief at the county’s public safety training center in Nokesville, took exception to her comments about the project’s cost.

Because of his job, he has become “very familiar with fire station construction costs,” the supervisor said.

He suggested Fauquier will pay at least $75 less per square foot than Northern Virginia counties do for new stations — excluding space for community hall use.

“The residents of Fauquier are actually getting a good deal here,” Mr. Granger said.

Board members sharply criticized predecessors, whom they called indecisive and unclear about their expectations for the project.

“I’m definitely not happy with this decision,” Supervisor Butler said. “This project should have lived or died years ago.”

He spoke of stations that handle twice as many calls “and run out of money. And yet, there’s $1 million in excess funds that are being proposed to close this gap.”

In addition to $1 million from the Fauquier Volunteer Fire and Rescue Fund Balance, the 18,400-square-foot building will be financed with:

• $4.8 million of debt.

• $600,000 in donations.

About $560,000 for design and engineering already have been spent on the project.

“As long as I sit on this board, there’s going to be no more kicking cans on projects,” said Mr. Butler, the supervisors’ vice chairman. “We’re either going to agree to let it live or let it die when it comes forward . . . . We’re not dragging this out over a number of years. That has truly affected the cost of this station.”

Mr. Gerhardt said: “For me, it’s a perfect example of what happens when previous boards kick the can down the road and offer no clear direction or parameters to a project.

“One way or another, this fire station needs to be built,” the chairman added. “This project is so far down the road that, in my opinion, killing it and starting over will ultimately cost the county even more money.”

Distancing himself from the two previous boards he served on that wrestled with the project, Mr. Trumbo said: “I have been here while this has been discussed. And I’ve had reservations every step along the way. And I can’t support spending $7 million on a fire station in Orlean.

“We could have done this for much less money and still provide the quality service. We definitely have let this go too long.”
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citizen observer · September 16, 2017 at 10:24 am
I read an article a while back that the volunteers are all independent corporations that actually have no real responsibility to the County if pushed.I heard some guys talking about volunteers filling their private autos with county paid gas. I gathered from that conversation that we give them money with little or no oversight.

So why are the taxpayers throwing money at them with no oversight? If they choose to remain autonomous then they should be doing their own fundraising. The County should be building its own fire stations that they can have complete oversight on.
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