HOPE — After two years of controversy and delays, the Hope Volunteer Fire Department is almost ready to move into a newer, larger and more modern headquarters on the town’s east side.
Firefighters are planning to transition into the 9,642-square-foot fire station at the corner of South and Aiken streets on or before Aug. 15, fire chief Randy Wood said.
In May, Wood told town officials that 16 unfinished projects needed to be completed before his department could make the move from its current station at 728 Harrison St. on the edge of the town square.
But last week, the fire chief said those projects have either been completed or are nearing completion, due most to the efforts of retired electricians and other community volunteers.
He identified those projects as the installation of fire doors and a 10-foot by 20-foot concrete pad, as well as finishing electrical work for heating and cooling, Wood said.
Projects that will be tackled as time and finances permit — after the move — include putting in office doors, making finishing touches on the second floor and a variety of small things, he said.
“Right now, we’re taking it day-by-day on what we’re doing — and where we’re going,” Wood said.
When groundbreaking was done on what was then estimated to be a $700,000 facility in late 2012, completion was expected in nine months.
Although walls on the 109- by 70-foot steel frame building went up quickly, cost overruns caused the department to exhaust a $600,000 bank loan, leaving no additional money to pay the builder.
The fire department notified its contractor, Madison-based JHS Construction and Fueling LLC, of the financial situation. In July 2014, the contractor pulled his crew and equipment from the site after completing about 80 percent of the work.
After JHS filed a $189,000 lawsuit in December 2014, a stalemate emerged between the town council and the firefighters over fire department finances.
For the next 10 months, the Hope council refused to make payments on its $69,000 annual contract with the town firefighters. Elected municipal leaders cited concern that the town of 2,100 residents would lose both the tax money and fire protection if the department lost the lawsuit.
But the situation began to improve after insurance agent Ohmer Miller was appointed to fill a vacancy on the town council last summer. It was Miller who began renewed negotiations that led to the firefighters accepting a memorandum of understanding — allowing for some funds to be channeled to the fire department — last October.
The town agreed to pay the department’s bills as long as those expenses weren’t connected with the new fire station or legal expenses.
The following month, firefighters demonstrated that they had significant public support when nearly 3,000 people attended a countywide fish fry for the department’s benefit.
On Dec. 10, the department announced the lawsuit had been settled. While details were not announced, financial documents indicated the department is making annual payments of $36,500 on the building.
Two months later, the council approved a $72,000 annual contract for 2016 with the firefighters.
While a few potential buyers have expressed interest in the current Harrison Street fire station, Wood said his organization won’t make any decisions on the old station’s future until after the move.