MOUNT AIRY — Many times since the late 1970s, the Volunteer Fire Co. has started work on plans for a new home.
Yet invariably one thing or another -- lack of money or a suitable location -- stalled relocation plans, forcing the company to continue working from the cramped quarters of its Main Street location downtown.
"It's so close and so tight it's scary," said Doug Alexander, a 23-year veteran of the company. "It's becoming untenable to inhabit."
Now the outlook has changed.
The company is moving forward withplans to build a $1.5 million structure on 5 1/4 acres it owns near Watersville Road and North Main Street.
The fund drive for the project officially began last week when the fire company hosted a breakfast meeting for civic leaders and members of the town's business community.
"The members of the (fire) company realize now that we've used the facility just about as long as we can," said Alexander, chairman of the committee overseeing the relocation project.
Construction is expected to begin in July, and the fire company, which comprises about 75 active members, hopes to take up residence at the new building in about a year, Alexander said.
"This is an undertaking of major proportions for us," he said.
The 27,200-square-foot structure will give the fire company about four times the space available at the Main Street building, which was built in 1926 and has been expanded twice (during World War II and in 1964).
"Those were somewhat patchwork measures that we've ended up living with for a long time," said Alexander.
The company hopes to raise $500,000 before the building is finished through a variety of fund-raisers, from bingo eventsto carnivals to dinners.
More than anything, the need for additional space has been driven by the evolution of the firefighting business, Alexander said. Equipment and vehicles have become more sophisticated, not to mention much larger.
Space for vehicles ranks among the company's biggest needs, Alexander said. Plans for the two-wing, three-story building include five "double-deep" vehicle bays, with room for two trucks each, and an additional bay for other equipment.
The building also will provide space for sleeping quarters, conference rooms, administrative offices, a library, and computer and communication equipment.
One of the more intriguing features of the building will be an archives room, Alexander said. The museum-like area will serve as a display for firefighting equipment from the past, including a 1926 fire engine.
Members of the company visited firehousesin New Jersey, Delaware and Pennsylvania to gather ideas for the building.
There has been some concern voiced about the new station's location near schools and residential neighborhoods. Some parents already concerned about traffic at the nearby Mount Airy Elementary School told the Town Council recently they were apprehensive about the impact of a firehouse in the area.
Alexander said the location is planned to be "as unobtrusive as possible to the neighborhood."
The facility will be designed to keep noise away from residential areas, he said. No out-of-doors training activities will take place at the location, nor will any exterior speakers be installed.