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First Responders Protect And Serve And Are Great Renovators Too

By Mickey Howley
WVMSA Director

Not every building has to be a century old classic to undergo an amazing re-purposing. Nope, even a structure as simple and utilitarian as a concrete block building can be reimagined as a place to serve the community. Consider the old National Guard Armory on Wise Street. It is as simple a building, and robust I might also add, as your hard-earned tax dollars ever paid for.
A couple of years ago at a city council meeting an army officer showed up, he was a Lieutenant Colonel dressed in camouflage, and he said the National Guard was going to consolidate operations in Bruce and the city could have the Armory.  It was kind of an unpleasant surprise, as Water Valley was losing its National Guard unit.
It seemed a done deal and the only possible good thing coming out of it was the city-owned building would be available for another purpose. Even that was problematic as local tax dollars would now be needed for upkeep and maintenance.  Right away what seemed a gift from Uncle Sam could be turning into a big local liability.
The Armory was not a brand-new building, and while it was in functional shape, the configuration was designed for weekend military training. There were several ideas as what it could possibly be, but no one had the ready cash to convert it. One guy had an idea, a real community need based idea at that, and not a cash-heavy solution. That person was Water Valley Fire Chief Mark McGavock.
At the time the police and fire headquarters complex on Main Street was a converted residential house with an afterthought metal building jammed on to the back of it. As nice as the house might once have been, the daily round-the-clock use by the police and fire departments, remember they are 24/7/365 operations, had the building in a careworn condition.
Chief McGavock knew the condition of the existing place and knew that a robust building like the Armory designed for heavy duty use, could be a new firehouse and police station.
Plus, there were other issues a new firehouse might help. The Chief had a manpower turnover issue and just note a firefighter’s work schedule is being at the ready for 24 hours at a time. That’s why fire department locations are called firehouses versus police stations, even if it is the same place. It is the nature of their respective schedules. The firefighters live there while on duty.  Water Valley was constantly losing firefighters, not only on pay rate, but to places with better facilities. It was a frustrating situation for anyone trying to run the department. Not only was that constant turnover compromising the safety of the town, but it was costing the city budget real money in training people who did not stay very long.
Working with the police department, Chief McGavock designed a re-use of the Armory to be a combined and practical facility for both departments. WVFD firefighters and others pitched in to salvage a huge amount of material that was re-used in the new configuration. They also did the interior framing and general construction of the new offices, saving you, the local tax-payer, a significant sum of money.
The return of the Armory is a great example of creative re-use. Our first responders not only protect and serve the community, but are great renovators, too.

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