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Va. city breaks ground on new, $7.1M fire station that will replace nearly 100-year-old building

Norfolk’s next station will have separate bunks and an area where firefighters can clean up before they return from a call


Photo/Norfolk Fire-Rescue

Gavin Stone
The Virginian-Pilot

NORFOLK, Va. — Norfolk’s Fairmont Park neighborhood will soon have a “state-of-the-art” fire station to take the place of its current one, which was built in 1925.

Fire Chief John DiBacco said the old Fire Station 11 building, situated on Verdun Avenue almost inconspicuously among houses roughly the same size and style — apart from the big red trucks in the garage — has served the community “with pride and dedication” over the years, but the neighborhood has outgrown it.

“Streets are getting narrower as the houses are getting larger, public service vehicles have grown in size as well, new utility lines and public services compete for limited space between homes, the sidewalks and the roadways,” DiBacco told the audience of public officials and community members present for the new station’s groundbreaking ceremony Tuesday morning. “Over the years the demand for service has increased, and Norfolk Fire & Rescue has answered the call continuously for the last century from our home on Verdun Avenue.”

“Now it’s time for a well-deserved improvement for both our citizen neighbors and our firefighters,” he added.

The new station will be at 2601 Lafayette Blvd., a vacant lot just a block over from the current building, and its planned completion is April 2024. At a $7.1 million price tag for the full project, according to project manager John Alford, the building will be 14,000 square feet. Construction will begin within the next month.

In addition to a new building, Station 11′s firefighters will have a new fire engine at an $843,000 cost — already scheduled as part of the Fire & Rescue’s equipment replacement plan — and an additional response unit comprised of another battalion chief and lieutenant to support the station’s EMS operations, city spokesperson Kelly Straub said in an email.

Because of its central location within the city, Station 11 has historically played a major supporting role in other districts. Its response area won’t change with the new building, according to Straub. It’s unclear whether the new facility and equipment will affect the department’s ISO rating, which helps determine the neighborhood’s insurance rate, when the city undergoes a new evaluation.

Among the new features are about a dozen separate bunks meant to help with sleep deprivation and the changing gender makeup of fire departments. The station is designed in a way to help prevent cancer among firefighters by allowing them to clean off before they return from a call, according to Mark Manetti, an architect and partner with BKV Group which designs fire stations across the country.

“We know that this fire station will be able to support this community for the next 20, 30, 40, 50 years — maybe even 100,” Manetti said.

The building will be two stories due to the space limitations on the 0.6-acre parcel, which means it must have a fire pole, according to Manetti. The community was consulted during the planning process, which resulted in several modifications — including a nautical touch to the design and a change to the orientation of the building to have the broad side running along Lafayette Boulevard. It will have folding doors opening onto Lens Avenue and Argonne Avenue on either side of the facility.

“We listened to some of the recommendations (that the community) had and we tried our best to incorporate them into the design,” he said. “Overall I think it’s going to be an enhancement of what the goals were for Lafayette Boulevard.”

Firefighters had heard talk of a new station being on the way dating back to the 1960s, the chief said, but it wasn’t until just before the pandemic that the wheels started turning to make it a reality. The project was spearheaded at the city level by councilwomen Mamie B. Johnson and Danica J. Royster.

Johnson, representing Ward 3, explained that the city’s fire and rescue services were among the City Council’s “greatest concerns” — which helped get the project approved. She said the city will be looking for a way to make the old Station 11 serve the community in a positive way.

“We really would like to see it be an economic generator for the community and for Ward 3,” Johnson said.

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