Saturday, April 13, 2024

N. Topsail to demolish fire station, build anew with up to $8M loan

North Topsail Beach plans to demolish its current fire station No. 2 and build a new, more durable one in the same spot. (Courtesy rendering)

NORTH TOPSAIL BEACH — An Onslow County beach town is in need of a new fire station and is borrowing millions to build it.

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North Topsail Beach Board of Aldermen unanimously approved Wednesday submitting an application to the Local Government Commission and entering into an installment contract to demolish fire station No. 2 and rebuild a durable structure in its place. The loan would not exceed $8 million, but actual construction costs are estimated to be between $6 and $7 million.

The current fire station, located at 3304 Gray St., is limited in size and Fire Chief Chad Soward told the board in January the structure is “unfit for human habitation.” Crews are not currently utilizing the station as a result and working out of temporary rental space nearby.

The town does not have sufficient funds to cover the cost of the project, and a special election to authorize general obligation bonds would delay construction and require an additional expense to the town. According to documents, the insufficient revenues produced by the project mean revenue bond financing is not feasible.

The town’s annual revenues are roughly $10 million, with nearly half going into its beach nourishment fund each year.

North Topsail Beach last sought financing approval from the Local Government Commission in March 2022 for two special obligation bonds. The $9.2 million and $9 SOBs were approved and used to pay back a 2015 USDA loan for beach nourishment as well as cover other beach nourishment work.

In February 2022, Mayor Joann McDermon told Port CIty Daily the LGC would never approve additional spending until the seven-year debt was settled. The financial advisor Doug Carter also explained last year the SOBs would “ease the minds” of the LGC and allow the town to borrow toward other projects, citing its much-needed fire station as an example.

ALSO: North Topsail Beach finds alternative path to finance beach nourishment after withdrawing from federal project

North Topsail Beach intends to enter into an installment financing contract to not exceed $8 million to cover the costs.

Town manager Alice Derian told the board Wednesday an original estimate from the architects is less, but she is asking for approval of up to $8 million to be safe.

“We needed to give some leeway there,” she said. “Should pricing come in higher and the board wants to consider the bid, we don’t have to start the process over with the Local Government Commission.”

Derian confirmed to Port City Daily she doesn’t anticipate borrowing the full amount. The town also has been saving funds, with $494,213 total allocated to the project. Some of the $1.7 million in the capital improvement fund may also be applied to the total, she said.

The town hired Parker Poe Adams and Bernstein LLP for $25,000 as special bond counsel on the project, as well as DEC Associates as financial advisor on the loan.

A tax increase is not anticipated to make installment payments on the contract, Derian confirmed.

To borrow the funds, the town will place a lien on the site of the new fire station as collateral.

Derian anticipates the LGC to vote on approval of the project’s financing on Jan. 9, so the town can close on the contract by Jan. 15. A spokesperson for the LGC said the board has not yet been contacted about adding this item to an agenda.

“I’ve asked Becker Morgan to start the process with permitting for the demolition of the current station so they’re all ready and in hand for the successful bidder to hit the ground running and start immediately,” she told aldermen at the Wednesday meeting.

The one-story, pre-engineered, 5,000-square-foot metal building is on a concrete slab and has corroding components due to its exposure to salt water and air. It’s at the end of its useful life, according to Derian.

The 1987 building has weathered 12 storms that have each inundated the apparatus bay with water and up to 27 inches of accumulated sand and mud. Impacts from hurricanes Florence and Dorian led to the need for extensive remediation of the building and it’s still in disrepair.

The growing full-time population has also led to an increasing demand in public services, with about 7,600 residents in 2010 jumping to more than 10,000 in 2020. There are two stations that serve the area residents: Fire Station No. 2 takes care of the southern half of North Topsail Beach, while station No. 1, built in the early 1990s, serves the northern portion.

North Topsail staff initially sought to purchase property elsewhere to build a combined fire and police station but were unsuccessful in securing needed parcels. Instead, it decided in the last few years to demo the current building and reconstruct it on the same site, roughly 0.38 acres. 

The town initiated a feasibility study in 2016 and plans were developed by architect Becker Morgan. Designs were altered by the firm in 2022 to accommodate the same parcel.

The new fire station will be two stories, with the ground floor — for storage of four vehicles, gear and decontamination services — elevated higher than its current 6 feet. The new base level will be 8 feet above sea level. 

The town sought approval from the board of adjustment earlier in the year, as land ordinances updated in 2000 call for 14 feet of elevation in flood hazard zones — where the station is located.

However, the board granted the lower amount because it was not feasible for vehicle access to be that elevated; it would require a very steep driveway. The station can only be accessed from Gray Street and there will be seven parking spaces on site.

The first story will be allocated to staff quarters, including a day room, kitchen and eating area, four two-person bunk rooms, lockers, showers and storage. 

A second story will consist of meeting space, offices, and an exercise and training room.

In total the structure will be 11,643 square feet, more than double the current size, leaving room for growth. Soward told the board earlier this year there is also space for lateral expansion of the building if needed. 

The fire station, with an 8,660-square-foot base, will be constructed to be more structurally sound, with load-bearing concrete walls and flood vents. It will also be constructed with heavy reinforced concrete slab floors, with steel joist and joist girders for the floor and roof framing.

The roof is glued to the surface that is “not loose in any way” and it’s sloped to collect and drain water toward the Intracoastal Waterway, according to minutes from the March 1 board of aldermen meeting.

An emergency generator will be elevated to 14 feet to protect it during storms and flooding

The building — designed to last more than 50 hours — should be able to withstand up to 162-mile-per-hour winds and resist hydrostatic pressures with all materials flood and water resistant. Designs were approved by the planning board in February and by the board the following month.

North Topsail Beach released a bid for construction services Oct. 18 with submissions due back Nov. 21.

A public hearing on the installment financing will be held Dec. 6 when the aldermen also will vote to approve a construction contract.

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