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story.lead_photo.caption A Callaway EMS vehicle pulls into the new ambulance district headquarters near Tanglewood. The facility has six ambulance bays and ample storage room. Photo by Helen Wilbers / Fulton Sun.

After a year of planning, a fire, a redesign and two years of construction, the Callaway County Ambulance District moved into its new facility this week.

Located at 2614 Fairway Drive in Fulton, the new facility offers additional space and comforts for administrators and staff alike.

Construction began in December 2018 and was well underway in April 2019 when a lightning strike caused a fire, destroying the existing structure on the property.

"In hindsight, it actually probably worked out better," ambulance district Director Charles Anderson said. "With the fire destroying the existing construction that was going to be renovated, it allowed us to start from scratch and rebuild from the ground up. All that was left was the foundation."

Initially, Anderson said, the ambulance district planned to renovate the old building at the site — a former restaurant — and attach a new apparatus bay.

But the fire gave the ambulance district a chance to redesign the space with its specific needs in mind.

Insurance covered the costs of rebuilding all the burnt areas, though the district spent extra on new designs for the main building.

The burnt building was razed in July 2019, and construction began anew. This time, the project was plagued with delays — some related to COVID-19, like difficulties in acquiring certain manufactured materials, and some not.

"We'd agreed to a July 7 (2020) final contract date, and there were no requests for additional time," Anderson said. "When all is said and done, we took possession 158 past the revised contract date."

The project's final price tag was $4.02 million. The ambulance district's general revenue has covered the cost without a tax increase for Callaway County residents, Anderson said.

"That's right in the area we were expecting," he added.

The added elbow room, functionality and amenities afforded by the new facility make all the hassle worth it, according to Anderson.

"It's new, and it's a much larger size," Anderson said. "It allows us to better separate the various divisions."

In total, the new facility is somewhere between 15,000-20,000 square feet, including the apparatus bay.

"One of our supervisors joked she got her 10,000 steps in just walking around the building yesterday," Anderson said.

There's more physical distance between the administrative offices and the area where the field staff spend their shifts, which Anderson hopes will promote relaxation for the paramedics when they're not out on calls. Downstairs is a dedicated board room for the ambulance district board and separate classrooms for trainees.

There's also space for a fitness room, which will be equipped with cardio and strength-training equipment.

"That will benefit us, hopefully, by making us healthier and less prone to back injuries," Anderson said.

The new apparatus bay has room for six vehicles. The Hickman Avenue facility had five bays, but one acted as storage for equipment — the new facility has a separate storage area.

"We'd been storing the mass casualty trailer at the Fulton Fire Department," he said.

Aside from extra space, the new building offers other upgrades. It's more energy-efficient with LED lights and an improved HVAC system. It's more secure, with several layers of ID-reader equipped locked doors between a visitor and the rest of the building.

And it's more comfortable. The night shift bedrooms are larger, and each has its own set of lockers and climate controls. Administrators' offices are more spacious, too — Anderson's has large windows overlooking Tanglewood Golf Course.

Anderson hopes this new building will serve the ambulance district well for decades to come. Should they need more space in the future, they have it: there's enough extra room within the building itself for another shift of field staff, and the ambulance district owns enough land south of the building to build an extra wing.

"This positions us well into the future to be able to handle expansion as the community grows or call volume increases," Anderson said.

The ambulance district's board of directors hasn't officially decided what to do with the old Hickman Avenue facility, Anderson said. He expects they'll declare it surplus property and offer it for sale — along with some of its contents, such as old furniture — in the spring.

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