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FRIES — The Town of Fries took the first step in redeveloping the old mill town into an economic destination with a groundbreaking on a $1.2 million fire department Wednesday morning.
The fire department owns the land and building of the existing fire hall and will simply swap with the town for the new land. Fries will then turn the old fire department building over to the Blue Ridge Crossroads Economic Development Authority, which will market the property, much like it is doing with the old mill site.
Fries Volunteer Fire Department Chief Randy Lineberry opened the ceremony with a little history on his department.
Lineberry said the groundbreaking was a "very special time" for both the town and the fire department, which was formed in 1961.
Originally the fire hall was housed below the recreation center, before a three-bay building was built where the current fire department stands, next to the New River. Later an addition made the fire department what it is today.
Lineberry spoke briefly about stories he has heard of members staying at the building around the clock to keep a coal stove burning so the water in the fire trucks would not freeze.
"Those guys from the beginning and the members now need to be congratulated," Lineberry said. "They helped make the Fries Fire Department what it is today."
Lineberry added that it takes a lot to be a member of the department, including getting up from meals with family and heading out in the worst of weather.
"But because of a the hard work of a lot of people, we'll start our 49th year off with a new fire station."
Lineberry thanked those involved in the process, including the landowners who sold the land where the new 10,000-square-foot state-of-the-art facility will be located, on the east end of Main Street in the Blairtown neighborhood, just inside the town limits near the car wash.
The new fire hall will include 12 bays — compared to the existing nine-bay building — and will feature a multi-purpose room that will serve the same capacity as the bingo hall downtown.
South End Construction, Inc. of Roanoke was awarded the bid on the project.
Congressman Rick Boucher (D-Abingdon) noted that funding for the project includes a $1 million federal grant through the Community Development Block Grant program and nearly $200,000 additional federal money through the Appalachian Regional Commission.
"I am pleased to return to Fries today to mark the beginning of construction on the new Fries fire station," Boucher said Wednesday. "The relocation of the fire station outside of downtown Fries marks a turning point in our efforts to bring new life to the town. Not only will this move provide the Fries Fire Department with a new and modern fire station, but it will provide space in Fries' scenic downtown area for new businesses."
With the relocation of the fire department, the old fire hall is expected to be converted into valuable commercial space.
"The Town of Fries is truly an asset to Southwest Virginia," Boucher continued. "Its location on the New River and at the head of the New River Trail State Park makes it an ideal destination for visitors seeking opportunities for outdoor recreation and unparalleled views of the river."
Boucher added that this was the first of many groundbreakings to come for the small town.
Federal grant monies have been provided to build a replica train station, which will become the town's visitor center, as well as money for redevelopment of the old cotton mill site.
"The relocation of the fire station is not only an investment in the Fries Fire Department, but it also represents a major investment in the long-term economic future of Fries," the congressman said. "The movement of the fire station will dramatically change the landscape of downtown Fries and create new opportunities for small businesses which cater to the many visitors who already visit Fries to experience the New River Trail or the town's cultural offerings."
Boucher thanked everyone involved in the process and commended Chief Lineberry and his department for their "outstanding work."
"Members of the Fries Fire Department are generous members of the Fries community who risk personal safety for the public good, and it is only fitting that they enjoy a modern and efficient facility to base their operations."
Boucher concluded by stating that the town continues to move toward its future and that the relocation is a major step toward that goal.
"The revitalization of Fries is an outstanding example of what can be accomplished when officials at all levels of government work in aid of a common purpose," he said.
Grayson County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mike Maynard spoke briefly and thanked Lineberry for his hard work on the project.
"Without Randy's leadership, this project wouldn't have happened," Maynard said.
The Fries Fire Department is a 34-member agency that provides fire protection, ambulance services, response for hazardous materials and New River rescue services for the town and large portions of Carroll and Grayson counties.
The department covers 144 square miles within five zip codes and owns 11 vehicles, two boats and a hazmat trailer.