ASHE COUNTY —The possibility of a fire training facility in Ashe County is closer than ever before. The Ashe County Board of Commissioners unanimously voted on Tuesday in support of concept plans for a new fire training facility that could be up and running as early as next fall.
How’d we get here?
According to Commissioner Gary Roark, the fire training facility has been talked about for several yearsbut it was Leonard Houck, president of Ashe County Fireman’s Association, who came before the board last May to formally request the training facility and the land to put the facility on.
Since then, other fire department leaders have spoken to commissioners about the need for the facility in Ashe County. Those requests come from recent changes to state laws governing firefighting training that essentially require firefighters to have hands-on training.
Other changes in state regulations now require expensive permits to be obtained to burn a building which fire departments use for training. The regulations became effective Jan. 1, 2015 and have forced some firefighters to travel outside the county for training.
During their regular meeting on Jan. 19, commissioners heard a presentation from Houck, Celia Robinson, chairwoman of continuing education at Wilkes Community College and County Manger Sam Yearick. The trio helped answer crucial questions about the logistics behind a fire training center.
“This is about the best way I can see for us to get this thing started,” Houck said. “What I’m looking for is a go ahead from you guys to get this thing going so we can get some people trained.”
One of the biggest questions surrounding the facility? Who would pay for it and could it be built affordably.
“The big challenge is how do you construct an affordable facility that meets the training needs,” Yearick said. “We know we need this, how can we do this where we won’t break the bank?”
According to Yearick, the estimated cost of the facility as proposed is 1.2 million, though Yearick said the project could end up costing much less.
The cost of the facility itself would only be just less than $380,000, Yearick said. The remainder, roughly $820,000 would include costs for engineering, paving, concrete fencing and a storage container for training materials. That cost would also include things like lighting, water and sewer hookups, and classroom and restroom facilities.
According to Yearick, the $1.2 million for the facility could come from a 40-year loan through the U.S. Department of Agriculture which would be issued to the Fireman’s Association. The county would then spend approximately $53,000 per year to pay off that loan.
“It’s got it down where it’s affordable and it’s what the Fire Association wants,” Yearick said. “I don’t know of a way that we could do it any more cost effectively.”
The Fireman’s Association has been looking into several properties in Ashe County that could work as an ideal spot for the facility.
One of those locations includes a 5-acre parcel of county owned land in the Beaver Creek Industrial park.
According to Houck, this property would work well for the facility since it already has water, sewer and gas lines and would require little excavation.
Yearick also said that the property is in a central location that would be easily accessible for all of Ashe County’s fire departments.
Although nothing about the facility is set it stone just yet, Yearick said he believes now is the time to start making final decisions so that construction for the facility could begin as early as spring.
“In Ashe County, you can’t build much in the winter time. You can’t do a whole lot,” Yearick said. “If we want to be able to do this and try to get it completed by this fall then we really have to get on it.”
Houck said that the Fireman’s Association is currently working to get instructors to help with future training.
“We’ll do whatever it takes to have people in our community and in our fire departments trained as best or better than a lot of our city departments because it’s in our heart to get out here and do this,” Houck said.
Hannah Myers can be reached at 336-846-7164 or on Twitter @cmedia_hmyers.