Council hears plea from firemen’s association

Johnny Woodard Staff writer

September 10, 2013

LAURINBURG — Four years ago, a 24-year-old’s life insurance policy paid for the construction of a training tower on which fellow firefighters could train.

For the same amount of time, the tower, named for deceased volunteer Matt Ellis, has sat unused behind the North Laurinburg Fire Station — off-limits after an inspection deemed it not up to the county’s code.

Members of Scotland County’s Firemen’s Association asked the Laurinburg City Council at it’s Tuesday agenda workshop for help to figure out why.

“We want to be able to use the Matt Ellis training grounds,” Skipper said. “This is the kind of thing Matt was working on when he passed. I just wish we could train in that tower.”

The four-story structure was initially approved for construction by the city council in February of 2009. According to Skipper, construction was signed off on by former city manager Craig Honeycutt after city council approved the plans. He said he was not told why the structure was deemed unusable.

“We built it at no cost to the city … and to the specifications of the drawing that we submitted (to Honeycutt),” Skipper told the city council. “We feel that, as an association, we have met all our obligations … (but) we have been denied access to that tower since 2009.”

Without the tower, many of Scotland County’s firemen have been traveling to surrounding counties for tower training, Skipper said.

“It sounds to me like some people were asleep at the switch … with the permitting,” Mayor Tommy Parker said.

City council directed City Planner Brandi Deese and Fire Chief Randy Gibson to determine what measures would need to be taken to get the tower up to the county’s code.

“Then we can decide what to do from there,” Parker suggested.

If Skipper is right, it may not take much to get the tower up and running.

“Contractor John Thames looked at it and the only thing he saw that could have have been done different were that the floors were attached directly to the poles,” Skipper said. “(Thames) said he would’ve put cement around the poles, where we just buried them, just like in the drawing that was approved (by Honeycutt).”

Improving the tower may be complicated by the fact that it was built in a floodplain, Deese said.

“Any improvements within a floodplain must be done with a permit (from the Army Corps of Engineers).”

Councilman Curtis Leak was the lone dissenter back when the tower was initially approved in 2009.

“I didn’t like that it was being built on the floodplain,” Leak said on Tuesday.

Also during the meeting, the city council approved the agenda for their regular meeting on Sept. 17.

At that meeting, the council expects to hear a presentation from Laurinburg Downtown Revitalization Corporation Chairman Jim Willis and recently-chosen Laurinburg Farmers Market manager Miller Slaughter.

The pair will update the city on their plans for the future of the market.

Those plans include a series of instructional sessions set to start this weekend with a cooking demonstration from the owners of the Gill House Restaurant.

The market opens at 8:30 a.m. and closes at 1 p.m. on Saturdays.

City council members also briefly reviewed a draft of a list of organizational goals compiled by City Manager Charles Nichols, created after meeting with city department heads throughout the month of August.

Once approved by the city council, the goals will eventually serve as a measuring stick for departmental progress.