MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Morgantown City Council approved the first reading of a purchase agreement for the site of a new downtown fire station.

The city will pay $725,000 for the 1.45 acres on the corner of Don Knotts Boulevard and Prairie Avenue. The proposed fire station will replace the current South High Street fire station that has been in operation since 1954.

The purchase will be made with $6 million in congressionally directed spending and city capital escrow funds.

“We’re planning for 50-year stations, if not more. So, we do have to make sure they are large enough to accommodate not only what we have to deal with today but what we may have to deal with in 30, 40, or 50 years,” explained Assistant City Manager Emily Muzzarelli.

The new location for the downtown fire station was selected after consulting with representatives from the Morgantown Fire Department and evaluating various factors, including response times and size accommodations. FGM Architects also conducted a feasibility and needs assessment as part of the evaluation process. Muzzarelli said the property will likely need some level of remediation before construction on a new facility can begin.

“Most sites close to the river in Morgantown have some level of contamination just because of their industrial nature,” Muzzarelli said. “But those are things we are prepped and ready to clean up.”

Morgantown Fire Chief Eugene Deem said the current South High Street building is deteriorating. Deem described crumbling floors, roof leaks in several areas, a failing sanitary sewer, and a lack of space. The facility was built to 1950s standards for size and equipment storage, and those requirements have changed significantly.

“It’s to the point, especially since we went through COVID, that we moved the duty officer out of the bunkroom and made his bunkroom his office,” Deem said. “That is a common office area for the general public that could walk in.”

There was some concern voiced by residents about the potential move.

Resident Tim Bleech questioned the location and how a high-traffic area could improve response times. Bleech said he has seen the traffic congestion during peak hours and fears emergency vehicles might not be able to exit the facility during an emergency.

“Traffic backs up there all of the time; there’s no way to get out of the way there,” Bleech said. “I can’t see how this helps response times, and I know there are people in the fire department that do not support this for that reason.”

Multiple residents living around the South High Street Fire Station expressed opposition to the move and voiced various concerns, from community outreach to cost-effectiveness. Resident Peter Wenzel said the firefighters have become members of the neighborhood and participate in many of their family activities.

“They come to our block parties; they come and educate our children about fire safety; they trick or treat with our children and give them candy; and our children make cookies for Christmas,” Wenzel said.