Macon-Bibb County is going back to the “drawing board” because problems have surfaced with the land bought for a new fire station nearly two years ago.
There is no timetable for when the east Bibb County fire station will be built, but some county leaders say they’re hopeful work will start soon, despite the latest setback caused by soil issues. Plans to build Fire Station No. 111 were stalled in August after a report from the Preston Geotechnical Consultants cited “poor soil support.”
Macon-Bibb is now having to start over with a new site after tests showed the soil could not support the weight of a large building with equipment such as a fire station, Macon-Bibb spokesman Chris Floore said.
In late 2013, some members of the former Bibb County Commission said they were optimistic the Donnan Road station would be finished in 2015. That’s no longer a possibility.
The project initially faced delays as the county and city of Macon consolidated in January 2014, said Macon-Bibb County Fire Chief Marvin Riggins. Then the soil test results killed plans for the site. Former Bibb County commissioners bought the land for $99,500 in the fall of 2013.
Commissioner Gary Bechtel, who was a member of the County Commission at that time, said the soil should have been tested before the county purchased it.
Commissioners were not informed of any problems at the site, he said, and it was up to the county to perform its due diligence.
“It’s really not contingent on the seller. It’s contingent on the buyer to get the proper testing of the soil compaction,” Bechtel said.
But Macon-Bibb remains committed to having a new fire station in the eastern portion of the county and is eyeing multiple sites, Floore said.
The process involves finding property with access to main roads, enough space for fire trucks to turn around, and the ability of the site to fit into insurance standards that measure the number of homes and buildings near the station.
The new timeframe for the project is unknown until a new tract of land is purchased, Floore said.
Riggins and Commissioner Elaine Lucas said Monday that although several sites are being looked at, Macon-Bibb has identified a preferred site and is working to buy the land. That property is near the original planned site, but officials have not disclosed its exact address.
“Hopefully this new spot will be good to go and we can move forward,” Riggins said.
East Macon residents and business owners have been waiting for a new station, and one is definitely coming, said Lucas, who serves the district where the station will be located.
“The folks out there have been disappointed and have had a number of homes destroyed by fire and have been anxiously waiting,” she said.
Meanwhile, money designated for another fire station project might be needed to pay the estimated $2 million in costs for the east Bibb County station.
On Tuesday, the commission’s Macon-Bibb Operations and Finance Committee will talk about a resolution that would transfer $850,000 in bond funds set aside for Fire Station No. 111 and move the money to the ongoing renovations at the former Sears Roebuck building as it is turned into the downtown annex for the Bibb County Sheriff’s Office.
Lucas said she will support the $850,000 going to the Sears project as long as there is an accompanying resolution that details “where the replacement money is coming from” for the east Bibb station.
That money, Floore said, could come from $4 million in special purpose local option sales tax fund set aside for a yet-to-be-identified fire station. Since it only costs about $2 million to build a station, there would be enough money to finish Fire Station No. 111 down the road, Floore said.
“Because we still don’t have a new site for that new project, it will be awhile before we can start on the project,” he said. “We (currently) have some needs for that bond money, which is primarily the Sears building.”
In total, the resolution proposes the old Sears building receive an additional $1.2 million of bonds. That also includes $287,000 that is now designated for offices and parking improvements at Lake Tobesofkee.
To contact writer Stanley Dunlap, call 744-4623 or find him on Twitter@stan_telegraph.