Willingboro edged closer to launching plans to build a new emergency services building, estimated to cost less than $9 million, after auctioning off two unused fire halls that date back to the 1950s.
The auction last month fetched nearly $600,000 after one fire hall was sold to a Burlington Township resident affiliated with the Life Fountain Bible Church and the other to a Jersey City, N.J., resident with ties to a construction company.
The old fire halls were built at a time when volunteers handled most firefighting duties, Mayor Eddie Campbell said. Now, from 15 to 20 paid firefighters respond to most calls, and are stationed “in one consolidated area,” he said, referring to the firehouse/emergency services building on Charleston Road and John F. Kennedy Way.
Plans call for the town to replace that firehouse, a one-story cinder-block building that also was built in the ’50s, when most of the town was created by developer William J. Levitt out of farmland.
Township Manager Joanne Diggs said an architect has submitted renderings for a new building, and she hopes the town will be ready to go out for bids this year. “It would have cost just as much or more to renovate the old building,” she said. The town switched to a predominantly paid firefighting staff about a decade ago and now needs more sleeping space for the crew. The EMS staff also works out of the building, she said.
Bobby Celio, an architect with LeMay Erickson Willcox Architects in Virginia, said plans call for a two-story building that will contain improved lodging for the overnight staff.
“The trends in firefighting have changed over the years, and we are serving our firefighters a lot better and giving them more reasonable accommodations, given that their work is pretty intense and they are working for the common good,” he said. His firm has designed more than 70 new firehouses in the last 25 years.
Celio also said the conceptual plans call for six to eight bays for fire apparatus. These would be larger than the existing bays, as modern equipment and trucks are more sizable. The new firehouse would also include a meeting room and a fitness center for both firefighters and police, he said.
Chief Anthony Burnett could not be reached for comment.
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