By Chris Teale (Image/City of Alexandria)
The planned redesign of Fire Station 203 in the city’s North Ridge neighborhood has reached a crucial period, as its exterior design is being refined ahead of construction.
The station has stood at 2801 Cameron Mills Road since 1948, and currently contains one fire engine and one medic unit, staffed by a between six and eight people. Its total size is 5,900 square feet.
But the fire station is beginning to show its age according to city officials, who are well on the way toward building a new station. Representatives of the Alexandria Fire Department did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
“We have all kinds of new fire codes and NFPA codes that we have to adhere to,” said Donna Poillucci, deputy director of facilities planning and construction in the city’s department of general services. “The apparatus has grown, so it’s larger than in 1948, so the actual bays won’t fit different types of apparatus that we use for specialty pieces. Along with safety, you have a lot of carbon monoxide capturing devices that trying to retrofit into old buildings is difficult.”
Under a plan put forward by the fire and general services departments, the station would be torn down and replaced by a 14,755 gross square feet, two-story station containing two and a half bays, including a full drive-through bay. The new station would support around 12 personnel and accommodate 15 on-site parking spaces.
A presentation given to the North Ridge Citizens Association on November 14 about the project indicated that the new station would make it easier for fire department personnel to arrive at emergencies within four minutes, the city’s target for first responders. North Ridge Citizens Association president Bruce Johnson did not respond to requests for comment.
The station currently is being designed and refined, led by chief architect Jeremy Kline of the Wheeler Goodman Masek & Associates, Inc. architecture firm with community input. The firm also designed Station 210 on the West End, which opened last year.
Poillucci said the floor plan has been finalized to determine space for common firehouse components like the kitchen, sleeping quarters, administrative space, a gym, HAZMAT area, vehicle storage and other rooms.
The station’s exterior design has come in for scrutiny from members of the public, who said previous drawings have made it look too industrial, and that it risks standing out in the mostly residential neighborhood.
“The new building is completely different from the station it will replace,” resident Nancy Kelly said at city council’s October public hearing. “The current structure is red brick, and its design blends with our primarily red brick, primarily Colonial-style architecture found in homes, churches and in George Mason Elementary School.
“The replacement is industrial in design. There is some red brick, but it’s partnered with a lot of dark block material, and the roof is flat except for a decorative tower.”
City Councilor Tim Lovain, who lives in the nearby Rosemont neighborhood, agreed and said that the station must continue to be the “core of our community” and fit in with the surrounding architecture. Mayor Allison Silberberg said the process is ongoing, and must be monitored.
“I agree with you that currently it fits into the neighborhood, and that this new design doesn’t seem to as well,” she said. [It] doesn’t have to be so industrial looking, but that’s why we have drawings.”
But Kelly noted that the new station is necessary, as the current one is inadequate for today’s needs.
“No one questions the value of a new station that will provide better accommodations and working conditions for Station 203’s firemen,” she said. “We’re also glad that the station will improve the speed and scope of the department’s work and its service area.”
Poillucci said conversations will continue with the community to adjust the design of the new facility, and will continue until all parties are satisfied.
During construction of the new facility, the firefighters will be housed in a temporary building on Pierpont Street, near its intersection with Monticello Boulevard. Poillucci said city staff and fire department officials looked into housing the station at nearby sites like George Mason Elementary School, Monticello Park or one of the churches, but that such a solution was not feasible.
Instead, Pierpont Street will be temporarily closed to house a trailer, where the firefighters will be able to carry on as normal while meeting the city’s desired four-minute response time.
“When you’re doing an office build-out it’s a little different,” Poillucci said. “You can find similar office space, it’s only offices and set up for working in the day. [But with] a fire station, you’re talking about where they sleep, where they eat, where they train, administrative where they have to do paperwork, and then where the apparatus and the tools that they use to do their job are located. It becomes a little different type of space to try to find and try to build.”
The concept design phase is expected to be complete by the end of the year, and city council likely will consider the project’s development special use permit next spring. If approved, the construction contract would be awarded next fall, with the rebuild beginning in early 2018. Under that timeline, construction would be completed by summer 2019.