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Beach hopes to rescue building upgrade project

The Colonial Beach Town Council will hold an emergency meeting today to discuss problems involving renovations to the town’s volunteer rescue squad building.

Interior work was underway at the rescue squad station, which sits in a flood-susceptible area on Dennison Street, when the contractor removed an exterior wall without a building permit.

Trinity Building Co. LLC was hired to add a 17- by 40-foot area for office space, a welcome area, a conference room and a crew lounge. Work includes removing an old office and taking an interior wall down.

However, rescue squad Chief Wesley Melson said the workers “got ahead of the contractor” on Aug. 15, and took down an exterior wall.

Construction is at a standstill now because a town ordinance requires the building to be raised 3 feet above the base flood elevation if there is “substantial improvement” to the structure.

The town defines “substantial improvement” as any reconstruction to a structure that totals more than 50 percent of the value of the building.

Efforts to reach Trinity Building officials were unsuccessful Friday.

The squad’s renovation plans included raising 600 square feet of the building 3 feet, but not the entire 7,500-square-foot building.

Melson contends the upgrades do not cost more than 50 percent of the structure’s value.

“It was a Band–Aid at best until we could get funding and get property so we could secure a new station. That’s all this project ever was,” he said on Friday.

At today’s meeting, the Town Council will meet with the squad officials to sort out the issue.

“We don’t anticipate taking any action except for informing the council and the public of what’s going on,” Mayor Mike Ham said.

Raising the entire rescue squad building 3 feet would not only cost millions of dollars, said Melson, but also create problems for ambulances to park.

“It just wouldn’t work,” he said.

Melson hopes the town can issue a variance so Trinity can continue to make the small repairs to the building because options to relocate are limited.

“There’s no property that’s currently available,” Melson said.

The rescue squad presently operates out of the building’s garage.

The rest of the building is unusable because of severe water damage, he said.

Since Tropical Storm Lee dumped 22 inches of rain on the Potomac River town in 2011, Trinity has helped the rescue squad try to find another place in the town for a station, Melson said.

“We really couldn’t come up with an option that was affordable,” he said.

The volunteer rescue squad depends on donations from the community and stipends from the government to operate. The town leases the current property to the rescue squad for $1.

Regina Weiss 540/374-5444