Structure problems close part of station

FRONT ROYAL – Warren County closed part of an aging fire station after finding structural problems with the building.

The closing of the second floor of the Rivermont Volunteer Fire Department building comes about two months after a failed attempt by the county to construct a new station the company would use when consolidated with the Fortsmouth Volunteer Fire Department.

The Board of Supervisors learned of the status of the building at a work session Tuesday. No one from the Rivermont or Fortsmouth departments attended the meeting.

A recent inspection of the structure prompted building official David Beahm to close access to the second floor. Responders still can use the first floor for operations, County Administrator Doug Stanley told the board.

“It puts the impetus on, one, making a decision about the future of that facility,” Stanley said. “We’re working with a contractor we’ve worked with frequently to try to ascertain what would be the cost to remediate the building and be able to repair it to the standpoint of being able to reuse the second floor.”

The general registrar has been notified of the situation and she plans to move the polling place back to the Front Royal-Warren County Airport for the Nov. 3 election, Stanley said. All activities on the second floor have been suspended until further notice, Beahm said.

Chairman Richard Traczyk and Fork District Supervisor Archie Fox asked Chief Richard Mabie, of the Department of Fire and Rescue Services, to look into possible structural problems with the Rivermont building.

“We weren’t sure if there were going to be people in there who had their life in danger,” Traczyk said.

“I think our main concern was the safety of our people, making sure no one got hurt and I think we did a good job with that,” Traczyk said later.

The county’s building committee discussed the problems with the fire hall earlier this week. In short, water pressure continues to push against a main wall of the structure, Traczyk explained.

“It’s just a matter of time before the hydraulics wins,” Traczyk said.

Beahm gave the board a more detailed description of the problem. Ruckman Engineering examined the fire station and the results backed up previous assertions made about five years ago by the Springsted consulting firm that the building needed attention, Beahm said.

“However, the additional hydrostatic pressure that’s being built up behind that wall that has no place to release it other than through the wall or taking the wall down is increasing on a daily basis just because of all the rainfall that we have,” Beahm said.

The wall has begun to bow from the weight of the second floor and the pressure from the dirt and water. Cinder blocks underground that make up the wall likely have deteriorated, but digging to investigate the situation could hasten the decay, Beahm said.

Ruckman suggested limiting the second floor to no more than 50 people and up to 10 in any one place, Beahm said.

“After my investigation, looking at it, I’m not comfortable with that for the simple fact that the two beams of egress you have to go past [is] the area that’s the worst for potential catastrophe, so I’ve already posted the second floor that they’re not allowed to use it because of that issue,” Beahm said. “If there was another means of egress outside of the front building, then I would have less of a problem allowing them to use it.”

The floor system of the building is supposed to support 100 pounds per square foot given the occupant load, Beahm said. The system might support 40 pounds per square foot, Beahm said. Use of the second floor has worn on the system’s ability to support the weight, he said.

While the first floor appears to pose no safety problems, Beahm said he’s expecting to make weekly inspections given the closing of the second story. Should the situation with the second floor change for the worse, Beahm said he would need to revisit the back section of the first floor.

A crew would need to excavate around part of the building to gain a better view of the structure underground, Beahm said.

The Rivermont station, while valued at about $300,000, could cost far more to repair and money might be better spent to build a new station for the department, Stanley said. The county would need to get cost estimates for repairs and to build a new station.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com