BURGAW — The Town of Burgaw is moving forward with plans to convert a vacant emergency medical services (EMS) building into its town center.
As the town population of 4,000 continues to grow — 1% annually or 10% since 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau — officials said a need for more space has become evident, especially with the town adding more programming for the public
“We also look at the growth around our area and the rapid pace Pender County’s population is growing,” said Mayor Olivia Dawson, who was elected to her first term in November.
At a special-called meeting Jan. 3, the board of commissioners approved investing $1.3 million in the building, located at 108 E Wilmington St. on the town hall campus.
“We’ve pondered for many years on what to do with it — whether it should be torn down or kept up,” Dawson said. “The plan in the last year or two is to develop that into recreational space, office, storage — things that are needed.”
Dawson said the town has allocated funds for the project in its budget but is also applying for grants.
The 4,000-square-foot building will expand by 600 square feet when its current L-shape, previously used as an ambulance bay, is enclosed. The main feature will be an 1,800-square-foot auditorium, outfitted with a small stage, with the capacity for 200 to 250 people.
It will also house the town parks and recreation department, currently located at Town Hall.
“We envision that place as a destination for our summer camps, art classes, fitness classes, as well as our dinners and higher-end ticket items – a designated space for parks and recreation,” Cody Suggs, director of parks and rec, said.
Currently, the town holds its meetings and events in two long-standing structures.
The Historic Depot, at 115 S. Dickerson St., is Burgaw’s oldest building, constructed in 1850 when the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad created a railroad station, eventually leading to the town’s founding. One of only two known pre-Civil War depots still standing in the state, the structure has a long, narrow layout not conducive to big gatherings.
The Community House was built in 1930 and previously was used as a United Services Organization building. It can accommodate around 50 seated guests.
To preserve the history of those buildings and avoid excess wear and tear, the town is pushing for a more utilitarian space to offload certain activities.
The Pender County Arts Council already is using the EMS building for events and meetings. The nonprofit will move out during renovations but have priority access once complete.
“They have a complementary-use policy with the town to access the building for their needs,” Suggs said. “Moving forward they will have to store their items in a different location but have perpetual use over the building.”
While the EMS structure, built in 1971, has a good shell, it will be gutted and renovated extensively. The town hired Wilmington architect Sam Guidry in early 2020 to bring its open layout and design to fruition. The pandemic put a pause on progress but the town pushed forward with it in 2021.
Wilmington construction company Environmental Unlimited won the bid earlier this month and will begin renovations in the next few months, with an unknown timeline due to material shortages.
Suggs said the redesign, with updated landscaping and parking, will be simple: “It will retain the same structure and frame but be refitted with a brick façade and designed to match the façade of the courthouse here.”
In addition to the large open space, the new facility will house multiple offices, bathrooms, a kitchen and a small conference room. Aside from public events, it will host emergency operations services in the event of hurricanes or natural disasters.
“We faced in 2018 maybe not having enough space and services for those that came to the area to help us during the hurricanes,” Dawson said, specifically speaking about Hurricane Florence. “So we’re adding some showers … renovating it, bringing it up to date, so it will be more accommodating.”
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