RINER — An executive for the company that designed Riner’s new fire station made a bold prediction Thursday evening.
“I’m going to predict that this is your last facility,” Jack Murphy, a senior vice president at engineering and design firm Thompson & Litton, told the crowd of more than 100 inside the new station’s garage.
Murphy was among those who spoke about how the new $6.1 million station was built with the intention of addressing Riner’s long-term growth needs.
Those in attendance gathered to celebrate the new 19,148-square-foot facility at 3595 Riner Road.
The station replaces the 9,150-square-foot one down the road that the Riner Volunteer Fire Department used for more than three decades.
Officials said the squad had outgrown its old facility. They also said the old facility could no longer house all the necessary equipment and prompted the department to regularly leave two response vehicles outside.
The squad’s strength regularly fluctuates due to the fact that it’s comprised of volunteers. The department has 34 volunteers, according to the most recent count. That number is generally up from the mid-1980s, when the department was typically comprised of 20 or so, Riner Fire Chief Jerry Saul said.
The Riner department had been in its previous facility since 1985, Saul said.
In addition to highlighting the needs that it will address, speakers on Thursday touched on how the county laid the groundwork for the facility and voiced their gratitude for the individuals who helped make the project happen.
One of the persons recognized was former county supervisor and board Chairman Bill Brown, who recounted to the audience about how the new facility was planned.
Brown said he was part of a task force, which he said continued its work after he left the board of supervisors at the end of 2015. He said the task force had to look at historical call data and citizen growth, among other factors, to determine the scope of the new facility.
“You want to build it so it would address the needs for the next 20, 30 years,” Brown said.
The county and the Census Bureau don’t officially track Riner’s population, but local government officials said the community just south of Christiansburg has grown with Montgomery County over the years.
The county has a population of just under 100,000, according to the census’ 2018 estimate. Recent population studies project that the county will surpass neighbor Roanoke within the next decade and become Southwest Virginia’s most populated locality.
Current board of supervisors Chairman Todd King, a volunteer Riner firefighter himself, said he expects the new facility to meet the community’s needs for about 50 years.
The county spent $360,000 to purchase the land for the new station. The property previously belonged to the Teel family.
In addition to the project coming in under budget, King said he was glad that the county didn’t take on debt to pay for the facility.
Debt has been a challenge for the county due to the fact that a package of new school projects in Blacksburg and Riner during the first half of the decade kept the county from borrowing for a few years.
The debt issue had somewhat complicated how the county went about addressing capital needs, particularly years-long calls to expand the spaces at several capacity-troubled schools in Christiansburg.
During a short tour of the new station after the ribbon cutting, King pointed to a trap door above the locker room and said that feature can be used for training. He said firefighters typically drop down through trap doors using a rope.
King also pointed to vents in the locker room that he said will filter out the smell of smoke on firefighters.
King said he expects the department to begin fully operating out of their new home in the next few days.
Supervisor Chris Tuck said he’s thankful for the volunteers. Without them, the county could be looking at a 17-cent tax rate increase to fully pay for all of its fire services, he said.
“They’re going out there to protect us and save us,” Tuck said. “We need to make sure these volunteers are taken care of.”
As far as the old station is concerned, the county plans to renovate that facility and designate it as the new home of the Riner rescue squad. The county recently put the project out to bid.