Harold Thompson can still rattle off the locations of the big fires he worked as a member of the Gainesville Fire Department.
Just 12 days after he got on the job, the Riverbend School was destroyed in a Dec. 12, 1953, blaze.
Almost 67 years later, Thompson is the oldest living retired firefighter for the department and saw the unveiling Thursday, Oct. 8, of the new Fire Station No. 2, just across the street from the Riverbend Elementary School.
"I don't know if the city of Gainesville residents know how lucky they are to have a facility like this and a fire department like they've got," Thompson said.
The new station at 1741 Cleveland Highway in Gainesville was built using SPLOST VII funds, which are special-purpose local-option sales tax dollars.
The current Fire Station No. 2 has sat at the intersection of Holly Drive and Piedmont Road since 1954.
In Thompson’s time, there were no departments in Hall and Gwinnett counties: Both agencies were established in 1970 and 1971, respectively.
A new fire rig might cost a few million dollars, but Thompson remembers when the trucks were $32,000-$34,000.
The new station is expected to have a 70-year lifespan and will also have four-fold doors, which are easier to open compared to roll-up doors.
"I think in my career this is one of the first times that when we got to the final product behind us and I compared it to the rendering they gave us, I'm not sure I could tell the difference between the rendering and the picture of that,” Gainesville City Manager Bryan Lackey said.
When Lackey arrived as city manager in 2015, he said he wanted to visit the city’s facilities. He said Gainesville Fire Chief Jerome Yarbrough was excited to show off the city’s Fire Station No. 1 and headquarters on Pine Street.
When replacing the fire station came up as a potential SPLOST project, Lackey asked the fire chief to show him around the old Station No. 2.
"He wasn't so excited to take me to see that building,” Lackey said.
Lackey said the building had a “lot of history (and) a lot of pride” but it was time to update to give the firefighters and the community a “first-class” facility.
Yarbrough said the fire staff has been working out of the new station for the past two weeks.
"This is a community project, something the community can be proud of,” Yarbrough said. “The fire staff, they've been patient and they did whatever we need to do to get into this building."
Lackey said the original contract price for the project from Carroll Daniel Construction was $4,870,000. Lackey said the contract price was adjusted to $4,964,684, a difference of $94,684.
The adjustment included funding for paving revisions, additional access control and cameras among other items. Lackey said the budget set aside was just under $5.2 million.
City officials did not say Thursday what plans are being considered for the former station.