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Delays in building fire station test tempers

LAWRENCEVILLE - The ground was broken a year ago, but other than the shovels-full of dirt tossed in the air by officials, the site of Norcross's new fire station has barely been disturbed.

Now, 11 and a half months after the groundbreaking ceremony, officials are seeking bids for the station, which will replace the first firehouse in Gwinnett.

Assistant Chief Robert Post said the schedule isn't far behind the original one, but problems with the station's design and working between two jurisdictions slowed the progress.

Mayor Lillian Webb said she's threatened to get on a bulldozer and start clearing the land herself if she doesn't see some movement soon.

"It seems like it's drug on forever," she said. "It's most desirable to have a new facility, which can use the new technology. ... I'm anxious for them to get started."

Webb said she was accused of planning the groundbreaking last October because she was facing an election challenge in November, but she said she was hoping to see a new station by now, and she wanted to celebrate the agreement to build a fire museum at the site.

Bert Nasuti, the commissioner who represents the area, said the groundbreaking was planned because all the officials wanted people to know that the fire station was settled.

The replacement had been planned for a long time, and the county purchased the land after "trying to avoid a condemnation war."

"We were happy to know that we were getting the project going," he said. "I would have liked for things to go quicker."

But the design of the fire station didn't go smoothly. Post said the county asked its designers to go back to the drawing board because of the high price tag of an underground water retention pond. The small acreage made the typical design impossible, he said.

Because the site is in Norcross's historic district, he said the county spent months meeting with the city's downtown development authority, tweaking the design to help it match the rest of the community.

"We knew it was going to be a longer process than normal," he said.

At the city's urging, the fire station will also include a small fire museum, which will house an engine used by the city's volunteer department before the county service began in the 1970s.

"It's in permitting now, so we ought to be moving forward any time," Post said.

If construction begins by the end of the year, which is Post's plan, it could open by the end of next year.