China Grove opens new town hall

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 6, 2013

CHINA GROVE — In the making for nearly five years, the China Grove town hall/fire department renovation project is complete. However, the project, which included changes to the police department did not come without some delays along the way.
The need for renovations came after the building at 333 N. Main St. was cited in a report for not being compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Once the town board identified problems with the fire station, it also sought to move town hall to the building and relocate the police department.
The town budgeted $1.8 million for the renovations, but the ultimate cost was $2.2 million. Some of that total was for equipment and furnishings, but the delays forced the town to rent space in a medical mall for doing business and a storage facility for new furniture that couldn’t be moved into the town hall.
The project was funded with a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) loan of just more than $2.1 million and cash reserves.
The current town hall/fire department was first home to Wagoner Motor Co. and built in 1948, according to a Post article written then. The car dealership, later changed to Wagoner Chevrolet, and the building underwent a facelift in 1973. When the dealership closed in the late 1970s, the building was offered to the town. The town bought it. Prior to the construction, town hall had been in its Swink Street location since 1976.
Barbara Doby, with the South Rowan Historical Society, recalls when the building housed the car dealership and served on the town board when the town purchased it from F&M Bank.
“Paul Fisher offered the building to the town. The town bought it and made payments until it was paid off,” Doby said.
In late 2009, a few members of town council and some department heads including Fire Chief Jeff Gledhill formed a committee to discuss whether the town should renovate or construct a new building. An architectural assessment revealed the fire department wasn’t designed for heavy vehicles. The concrete slab had over time broken under the weight of the heavy trucks. The town patched the slab, but it continued to deteriorate.
One of the biggest safety issues to the fire station was that firefighters had to stop traffic to back into the building from Main Street, causing a hazard.
In February 2010, the town received funding for the project through the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, part of the stimulus package signed into law in February 2009 by President Obama. A U.S. Department of Agriculture loan of just more than $1.8 million was approved in March 2010 and later increased to $2.1 million.
The town used $100,000 from cash reserves.
In February 2011, MV Momentum Construction of Charlotte was awarded the contract as the lowest bidder. Construction began in May 2011 with an April 2012 target for completion, but with delays and mistakes, the project was completed earlier this year.
There were many delays along the way, some before construction began, including weather and the loss of a few subcontractors.
Project Manager James Holder said months before construction began, crews ran into a few snags.
Weather was a complication, and a few companies subcontracted for specialized services shut down, including a plumber and steel fabricator.
Holder said a cabinet contractor was not able to continue with the project and a grading contractor didn’t honor the contract.
Once the work began, the existing construction proved to be an obstacle for the construction crew, since the building’s floors were uneven. The uneven flooring had to be corrected so it could connect with the newer additions to the building.
Quite often, town board members expressed their displeasure in the delays and slow progress. Architect Bill Ashlin and Town Manager Ken Deal often gave the board project updates at their monthly meetings.
The fire station includes lots of energy efficient, high-tech equipment and simple ways to make getting to a fire easier. The station includes a mechanism that opens bay doors automatically when an alarm sounds. The fire trucks are equipped to be remotely started while firefighters gear up.
The station also has a fire exhaust removal system, which uses a hose attached to the truck.
If rains or other conditions prevent firefighters from washing the trucks outdoors, they can do so inside. There is also an oil separator system that will funnel and filter the oil, cleaning the contaminants.
The fire department’s truck bays were moved from the front of the building’s right side to the left side of the building, making it safer for the trucks to move in and out of the fire station. Instead of having to back trucks out into the street, the new construction allows the firefighters to drive around the building and pull into the station.
The construction project included the addition of nearly 5,000 square feet of vehicle storage to the fire station.
The police department was in need of a lobby area. When the public went to speak with an officer, they had to walk down a long hallway in search of an officer. The department also didn’t have adequate space for evidence storage.
With the new construction, police could have a lobby, office space and could also use what was once council chambers as the patrol room. The police department relocated to its current location at Swink Street.
The former town hall building on Swink Street was built in 1976, but once the construction project began it relocated temporarily to the Roller Mill Museum, 308 N. Main St.
In February 2011, the town rented the South Rowan Medical Mall, 308 E. Centerview St., across from Farm Bureau. The building had been vacant since 2009 and the town began renting it on a month-by-month basis.
In August 2012, the town staff moved to the current fire station after staff learned Novant Health Rowan Medical Center would be opening a clinic and construction on town hall was still incomplete. China Grove Family Medicine opened the clinic in December.
Before construction was complete on town hall, council held its meetings inside a fire department training room.
Initially, the town board discussed seeking damages from the contractor because of delays at $300 a day for every day the project was delayed. Deal said the town did not pursue damages, but instead the construction company was responsible for the cost of the mistakes.
When Councilman Mike Upright was running for his seat, the fire station was still being discussed.
“One of my campaign talking points was making sure the replacement was something that the town really needed. At that time, the economy was just beginning to tank and I wanted to make sure that this was a needed expense,” Upright said.
After some studying, Upright said he was convinced the old fire station was “antiquated, unsafe and did not meet current or future needs of the town.”
The new station and town hall, he said, is state of the art and the “functionality is spot on for the needs of the town’s administration and the fire department’s current and future needs.” 
Upright said he feels the building is something every citizen can be proud of and upon reflection he believes it was one of the best decisions the board made.
There were major issues with the fire department, said Councilman Steve Stroud, including not enough space.
Stroud said he thinks the new construction was a great improvement, but also feels that if he had been on the board when the decision was being made, he would’ve demolished the building and constructed a new building. He does feel the building will benefit future generations.
Mayor Don Bringle said it was great to be able to design and construct a building that was able to use the existing space.
He said the expansion will be good for the town and take it through future growth. Bringle said the construction was done at a lower cost than it would have been to tear down the existing structure and rebuild.
“We are thankful the process is complete and appreciative of general contractor and architect,” Bringle said.
He was also appreciative of Deal, the town manager, and the staff for their resolve in dealing with time delays during the project.
“Through this whole process they were able to relocate police to remodel the interior so that it can meet the needs of our police department. That’s the other caveat, that too, is a plus that we were able to upgrade and utilize an existing facility,” Bringle said.
Town Councilman Lee Withers said the board is pleased of the work that was done. He said the staff is to be commended, “they did it smiling, maybe not always willing, but they made it easy on council.”
Withers said the new construction meets a lot of the different guidelines including bringing the building into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“A lot of the things that needed to be done that are completed now. Our town hall is something our citizens can be proud of,” Withers said.
He said with anything, “especially government, sometimes you get what you pay for.”
“Sometimes you wish you could spend a little more and get it done in a timely fashion. You’re trying to do the best job you can spending someone else’s money,” Withers said.