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The Daily Tar Heel

New Fire Station May Choose Form Over Function

The Chapel Hill Town Council finalized plans for a Southern Village fire station Monday night, after juggling costs and budgetary restraints.

Financing the fire station, which will be located at the intersection of U.S. 15-501 and Bennett Road, meant sacrificing a proposed police substation in the Southern Village area.

Officials consider a fire station necessary if Chapel Hill plans to annex the growing Southern Village in the future. "We want to annex Southern Village, but we can't annex it until we have a fire station," said council member Flicka Bateman.

Plans for the station have been in the works since 1998 and have undergone many changes.

Town Manager Cal Horton, who has worked closely with bidders for station construction, developed several cost-saving methods after bids were more than expected. "We were asked by the manager's office to consider possible cost-reduction items," said project architect Michael Hining.

These items included changes to concrete retaining walls, landscaping, kitchen cabinets, flagpoles and sidewalks. In total, $69,450 would have been saved.

But council members felt cost was not the only factor to consider. Council member Pat Evans, who served on the Citizen's Fire Station Design Committee, said her goal was "not to have a flashy building but a unique one, one that we can be proud of."

Evans said she was concerned that changes to the design would make the building less attractive to future residents. With the council's vote to maintain the original approved design, her fears were put to rest.

But with this decision, the town also committed itself to reallocating funds for construction. The original project budget was $1 million, but with the new resolution, the cost will be $1,292,000, a difference Horton says should not worry the town.

"We're in sound financial condition; (this) is just a business decision the council should feel confident to make," he said.

Project plans are intentionally flexible to accommodate future expansion.

"Almost all sides of the building have been designed in a way that could be expanded later," said Chapel Hill Fire Chief Dan Jones.

Town officials said they were content with the finalized plans, recognizing their flexibility and also their strengths. Council member Bill Strom said the town has given ample consideration to the building's attractiveness.

"It says a lot about how we see ourselves as a community."

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