As NE Dinwiddie grows, county prepares for public safety investments

By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: May 28, 2019 | 1:45 p.m.

DINWIDDIE – Driving along U.S. Route 1 from Petersburg into northeastern Dinwiddie County, it is hard to miss the transformation that is underway along roadway, through Cox Road, on down near U.S. Route 460 as businesses set up shop in the area.

With that growth comes the need for a reevaluation of the county’s public safety assets, with this year’s budget development honing in on some future needs for that portion of the county in the coming years and onward into the next decade.

Earlier this month, the Dinwiddie County Board of Supervisors formally adopted their budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which also included their capital improvement plan, which provides a window into the future for the county and some of its priorities going forward in regards to large-scale projects, such as public safety facilities.

According to the county’s FY2020-2029 plan, county officials have identified the 2023 fiscal year as the time they will look to fund a new “airport area fire station” within the plan, at a current cost of $4.6 million.

Over the few years, commercial and industrial development has served to bolster the county’s economic profile as new retailers and eateries like O’Reilly Auto Parts and Taco Bell complement industrial growth in the county with recent improvements at Sutherland’s Walmart distribution center, consistent performance at Amazon’s fulfillment center, and truckloads of goods leaving ALDI’s new regional headquarters and distribution center in county.

The Dinwiddie Commerce Park along U.S. Route 460 serves as the home of Amazon’s fulfillment facility, with plenty of room for additional growth as Dinwiddie becomes a magnet for distribution services thanks to ALDI, Walmart and others. For county officials, this, plus the growth in NE Dinwiddie, makes the airport corridor a prime candidate for a new fire station in the coming years. (Dinwiddie County)

In addition, the multi-million dollar expansion of Dominion Energy into Dinwiddie with a headquarters and other assets coming to the county at the former home of Southside Virginia Training Center and now-approved plans from Governor Ralph Northam and the General Assembly to invest over $300 million in the county to build a state-of-the-art replacement for Central State Hospital has led to questions about public safety service delivery in northeastern Dinwiddie, and the county as a whole.

In the coming year’s budget, funds have been allocated to allow for a northern end precinct to be established at the new home of Elite Contracting’s headquarters on the site of the former Rohoic Elementary School along U.S. Route 460.

When it comes to fire protection and emergency services, County Administrator Kevin Massengill has scouted the corridor surround Dinwiddie County Airport as a viable location for a fire station in the future that could serve the growing area.

“If you had to put your finger on a map and ask where is a good location for a fire station, regardless of who owns it, the airport location makes sense,” he explained. “The fact that the county and the airport have a good relationship with one another, with Dr. Mark Moore serving on their board. That was a good strategic location for us.”

He detailed the rationale for that site, noting its proximity to those business assets like ALDI, Amazon, Elite Contracting, and others and how those businesses make the intersection of U.S. Route 1 and 460 a key priority in terms of service coverage. Further up U.S. Route 1, Massengill noted the county’s key tourism assets played a factor in the airport area’s consideration, such as Pamplin Historical Park, and, through the county’s master plan, the opportunity for other facilities like hotels or medical facilities, with Southside Regional Medical Center having previously told The Dinwiddie Monitor they are actively researching the possibility of bringing some form of operation to the county, like an urgent or primary care center.

Frontage along U.S. Route 1 near ALDI’s headquarters was rezoned in 2018 with this type of development in mind by the property owners, according to county documents, likely serving visitors to region’s various parks along with nearby Virginia Motorsports Park, as the NHRA continues to bring their national racing series to the track, already planning to return in late May of 2020.

Factoring the new Dominion development and plans at the Central State complex, the airport location was a logical choice for a future fire station.

“A fire station at that location makes sense,” Massengill detailed, noting while the station is proposed for the 2023 fiscal year, the board has approved funds for a study that would take a wider look at the county fire and EMS needs that, in Massengill’s eyes, could shape the county’s fire and EMS future for the next few decades.

He added there has been talk of having the station closer to the Sutherland area but, he explained the benefit of the airport area is that “you beat the railroad tracks,” noting those tracks present a physical limitation because the railroad runs parallel to U.S. Route 460 and there are a limited number of at-grade crossings along the route.

“We would try to strategically locate a fire station in such a way that we can respond to a new capital investment and residential housing in that area and that those response times are efficient,” Massengill said.

He did stress they are anticipating the possibility of capital projects from the school division playing a factor in the placement of future projects, like the airport area fire station. According to the CIP, there are nearly a half-dozen projects related to schools that have not had a funding year and amount determined.

Those proposed projects include a Southside Elementary School renovation/replacement, renovations/additions to Sunnyside and Midway elementary schools and Dinwiddie Middle School, along with new entry and site improvements at Dinwiddie Elementary School. The five projects combined as presented in the CIP total over $91.3 million.

“Depending on that investment, it may determine whether the fire station will stay in FY2023 or if it moves somewhere in that vicinity,” Massengill said, noting they will be working with DCPS Superintendent Dr. Kari Weston and her team to go over their capital needs for the future.

Regarding the study that is going to delve deep into the overall operations of fire and EMS delivery in the county, Massengill said it is their hope it can allow them to make “data-driven” regarding the execution of county emergency services going forward.

One of the biggest recent investments in public safety by Dinwiddie County was the new state-of-the-art public safety building, which opened nearly a year ago. In the coming year’s budget and capital improvement plan, the county has identified other areas where they plan to bolster their public safety efforts. (Michael Campbell)

“This is really going to help guide us thanks to data, but also getting some advice of the fire and rescue association, and our volunteers, who are in it every day,” he said. “Looking specifically, we hope to be able to look at our databases and see calls for service, where are our ambulances placed, etc. We do a really good job of putting ambulances where they need to be, with fire apparatus staying at their respective stations but, there are different stakeholders.”

He elaborated, “If you look at the number of calls and the passerby vehicle traffic along Interstate 85, a lot of our calls are to I-85. That may not be a citizen but it is someone traveling through the jurisdiction, but they are a stakeholder because of how we respond to those types of calls. The business who has invested into their building and protecting that asset. Then, it is also the resident who lives in the community. So, we need to look at this from a holistic perspective. It is not just the taxpayer from Dinwiddie County with the home. It is also the business who decided to locate here and the people who are traveling to and from throughout the county.”

“The goal of this is to look at where we are pre-positioning our assets now and looking at specifically where we need to go. Talking about and reviewing response times and trying to get a better picture of all this information,” Massengill closed.

At the end of the day, the county administrator remarked, as the county’s planning commission and supervisors watch the county grow, efforts like the fire and EMS study hope to aid in positioning Dinwiddie in an advantageous way for future growth in a methodical and well-managed way.

“As someone who has grown up in the county, there has been a mindset that, if you live in the more rural parts of the county, you almost accept the fact that you’re moving further away from certain services,” Massengill said. “Your response times might be a bit longer in some of the more rural areas. We have tried to beat that by strategically making investments in McKenney to cover that southern area, while also looking at the Village of Dinwiddie in the center of the county, along with our other locations. And the opposite is expected if you live in a more suburban environment with closer assets and there is a greater expectation that the response time should be a bit more expeditious.”

“This is a real opportunity to get community feedback on this. We want the community to understand what we are in the process of trying to evaluate because ultimately it is going to affect them and for them to be able to give us feedback on this is important.”

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