BELTON, TX — Belton firefighters are just a few months away from moving back inside the Central Fire Station.
Major renovations started in the fall of last year after mold was found inside the walls of the bunk area where firefighters sleep.
"We noticed a smell, and we just kept having problems with moisture," said Belton Fire Chief Bruce Pritchard.
Pritchard said the quality of the air was tested to make sure firefighters were not at risk of getting sick.
"Once they came and did the tests, that's the only place the mold was. The firefighters were never in danger," Pritchard said. "It wasn't exposed to the outside area. They found it once they got in it, so the living area was never exposed to the mold."
While the mold was not hurting anyone, the moisture that led to it started causing issues throughout the building.
"The moisture caused damage to sheet rock," Pritchard said. "Then they found faults in the air conditioning system. There was moisture even in the attic space, so it just developed all the way through."
Since the station hasn't been remodeled since the early 2000s, the City of Belton decided it was time to update the whole space.
"We feel like this is going to be an improvement that gives them pride in coming to work," said city spokesperson Paul Romer.
During the first week of December, firefighters assigned to Central Station moved to a temporary mobile home site at the Public Works facility.
"Our firefighters are being inconvenienced by all the work that's going on here, but that's only going to be a temporary thing," Romer said.
In the past few months, exterior brick has been removed and replaced on three sides of the station. Insulation has been sprayed on the interior side, and living quarters have also been framed.
Pritchard said the framed living quarters are new to the station. While there won't be doors to each individual space, the walls will separate bunks and give firefighters more privacy. There's also small cutouts toward the top of the walls.
"We're going to leave the top areas open, and that's going to allow for air flow to help reduce what happened in the past," Pritchard said.
Romer said the new brick wall was critical because the city discovered the old wall leaked during rainstorms, contributing to moisture issues that turned into mold within the exterior wall.
On May 14, the Belton City Council also agreed to spend $80,855 on a new HVAC system at Central Station.
"It was at the end of life," Romer said. "We feel like with this new wall in place and the new HVAC system that those issues are going to be in the past, and that it's going to be a nice, new fire department for the employees who call this home."
Pritchard visits the site at least once a day to see its progress. He said it's important to have a space where firefighters feel comfortable, since they stay there for at least 24 hours at a time.
"I'm ready to get it done just so the guys can get back in house," Pritchard said. "This is their home. They deserve to have a place to come back and rest and relax."
To save on costs, Romer said most of the work is being done in-house by the city's Building Maintenance Department. The project is expected to be completed by August.