DEMOREST — The Demorest Fire Department building is deteriorating rapidly, leaving city leaders faced with the challenge of what to do to protect apparatus and personnel.
“We received our formal engineering written report actually late this afternoon,” Mayor Rick Austin told AccessWDUN at the end of Tuesday night’s called meeting and work session. “It confirmed what we already understood, that this building continues to deteriorate. The rate of settling of the building, particularly in the bays, and the cracks in the concrete walls, continue to enlarge and settle deeper.”
That report, from engineer Christopher Poje of Turnipseed Engineers dated July 31, notes that construction drawings of the current building are not available for review, and that inconsistent thickness of concrete previously was observed across the fire department engine bays, varying from an estimated two inches to four inches.
“Based on available information … the structural deficiencies with the Demorest Fire station building and driveway are consistent with settling caused by poor soils and inadequate soil bearing capacity,” Poje’s report states. “The original structure may have been sound for a period of time, but as the organic material buried began to decompose, the support of the surrounding soils lessened. If the volume of organic material buried is significant, structural failure of the foundation, load bearing walls and unreinforced slabs is possible.”
The city and its engineers have known about possible organic material buried on the site for a couple of years, and have worked together to mitigate the problems the current city leadership inherited.
Additionally, it is possible that soils may not have been properly compacted before construction of the fire station started, according to Poje’s report.
“During previous attempts to stabilize the driveway apron, the type of material removed and hauled off site was consistent with buried organic debris,” Poje’s report states. “If this burial practice extended to under the parking bays, the concrete slab may be partially or completely unsupported.”
Determining whether that debris disposal practice extended under the parking bays and the foundation of the building would cost some $8,000 just for test bores.
“So, it’s forcing our hand to figure out what kind of solution we’re going to seek,” Austin said. “I think the general consensus is we’re going to seek the most adequate and cost-effective, short-term solution so that it gives us enough time to think about ultimately constructing a new fire department that meets the fire department’s needs; meets our police department [needs], particularly in terms of a municipal court; meets the mayor and council’s needs in terms of a city meeting place; and gives us that amount of time to plan what we need, and then to adequately get that constructed.”
Currently, the city’s ladder truck cannot be stored inside the station because of its weight. A solution to that must be found before freezing temperatures arrive, or the tank will have to be drained if the truck is stored outside or in non-heated space.
Austin and council members present Tuesday night talked with Fire Chief Ken Ranalli, who said he favors spending the least amount possible to make the site work until a more permanent solution — hopefully in the form of another building — can be found.
“There’s a part of me that is regretful that we need to go down this path,” Austin said. “There’s also a part of me, and I think council as well, that’s excited about the opportunity to move this city forward in yet another way. This will be a valuable addition that will enhance our fire department, enhance our municipal court, and enhance our city council meetings, so it presents itself as an opportunity — and that’s the way I look at it is that anytime you see something that seems to be detrimental, find where the opportunity lies.
“I think the opportunity lies in the construction of a new building that’s done well, and that meets our purposes not only in the short term but for many years to come,” Austin said.