A new Highlands Fire Department moved one step closer to fruition on Thursday when the town board approved a rezoning request for the property and accepted a not-to-exceed bid price from contractor DR Reynolds Company.
During a public hearing regarding the rezoning of the parcel at 149 Franklin Road the only question from the public concerned the traffic impact of locating the fire department on a busy thoroughfare.
“We have worked with the NC Department of Transportation to look at the traffic, and they saw no issue with that location,” Highlands Fire Chief Ryan Gearhart said. “We are looking into the possibility of putting warning signs, for when a call comes in, to notify motorists that emergency vehicles will be entering the roadway. Something similar to what you see when you drive down NC 106 at the Sky Valley turnoff, where the turn is marked with flashing lights when a vehicle is approaching.”
Following the public comment period, town planner Michael Mathis noted that the planning board had reviewed the zoning change from B-3 commercial to GI governmental and approved the change.
The board of commissioners unanimously approved the rezoning and then heard from contractor Bob Ross with DR Reynolds in regards to the cost of the new fire station.
“What we did was put together a maximum construction price, and we did that by reaching out to over 170 subcontractors for bids,” Ross said. “The total max cost of the project is $6,897,000. That includes a $300,000 contingency.”
DR Reynolds has overseen the construction of 27 fire stations in the past 13 years, according to Ross, who noted that the project may come in under the $6.89 million mark but will not exceed that price. He also added that 35 percent of the subcontractors involved would be companies local to Macon County.
“Two of the big items are grading and electrical work on a project of this scope, and for both of those we have local companies ready to sign on,” Ross said. “I will say that we need to get this project approved soon so we can get started, because the cost of construction materials is only going up every week.”
Town manager Josh Ward laid out the financing details for the board. The town will take out an $8.5 million loan through BB&T at 2.7 percent interest over a 20-year term. Ward noted that the first payment on the loan will be $679,000 and the payments will decrease slightly each year.
“I know we are talking about a lot of money, but the good news is with the fire tax increase that the county approved us for last year, we can maintain our current operating budget, make the loan payment in year one and still have a $56,000 surplus,” Ward said. “Now once the station is built and we go to 24/7 manned coverage, we will have to look at the budget again. But with these loan terms we are fine in the first couple years.”
A motion to approve the financing package through BB&T passed unanimously.