Anniston could lose an historic fire station it acquired for free with the closure of Fort McClellan, after an inspection by federal officials concluded the property hasn't been maintained properly.
The city set aside $900,000 from a fire tax fund a decade ago for renovation of the old post fire station at McClellan's traffic circle, but the city in recent years decided to build a new station on Alabama 21 instead. An inspection in November found the McClellan station “was not being maintained in accordance with the historic preservation covenant in the deed of conveyance.”
The federal government gave the property to the city in 1999, at the same time the city took control of the rest of the fort. According to the deed, if the city did not maintain the property according to standards set in the document, ownership could revert back to the federal government.
Anniston Fire Chief Chris Collins said the renovations needed to restore the fire station were going to cost more than the city could afford to spend. The $900,000 was instead used toward the new fire station on Alabama 21.
“What they found with the initial project was the asbestos and the lead paint throughout the building actually caused that project to go away after they started looking at some hard figures on that,” Collins said. “That was one of the catalysts that caused us to start looking at building another station.”
Collins said building the new station saved the city money in the long run and put the station in a more central location for responding to calls. Collins said several factors played into the decision to abandon the McClellan station.
“One, we weren’t gonna be able to convert it because of the historic register guidelines and the limits to which we could remodel it,” he said. “We weren’t gonna be able to design it to were it could be a pull-through station (for the fire trucks). It would have to remain a back-in station, which is always a hazard when you have to back one of our trucks up.”
Collins said the biggest concern, though, was the cost of the remodel.
City officials say they are now looking for ways to repurpose the fire station, but the deed for the fire station also specifies that the building may only be used “for emergency management response purposes, including fire and rescue services.”
Collins said the city is hoping to get approval for the station to be reclassified for other uses but did not specify what could be done with the building. It is currently being used as storage for emergency services materials.
“None of that has been set in stone yet,” Collins said. “We’re still working on that.”
The historic building was home to Station No. 3 for 15 years before the new fire station on Alabama 21 was built. According to city officials, the station is now suffering roofing issues with no immediate plans for repair.
“We are actively working on getting figures and estimates on helping to fill the envelope of the structure, which is the roof and the outside walls,” Collins said. “I know that we’ve got some roof issues that we need to get repaired.”
Because the station is on the historic register, the remodeling process must follow specific guidelines, which Collins said could bring a hefty price tag.
“Not just every roofer can manage that roof,” Collins said. “We’re limited to the areas we can get those prices from.”
The letter also stated that Jeff Waldrep, Anniston fire marshal, had been negotiating possible alternative uses for the fire station, outside of the outlined emergency service uses.
During a May meeting of the Anniston Historic Preservation Commission, Waldrep told the commission he hoped to restore the station through grants.
“Keep in mind that even if we get the approval to reclassify it, it still falls under the historic register,” Collins said. “That governs how it can be remodeled, which plays greatly into the investment that has to be taken to repurpose it too. So we are taking our time and covering our bases so we can get it repurposed so it can be used for something else.”