Old fire station is a hot commodity for groups

Nikasha Dicks/Staff
This former fire station off Central Avenue could become a museum for the Augusta-Richmond County Fire Department and a community center in the Summerville area.

The Old No. 7 Fire Station on Central Avenue once was a center of activity in Summerville.

Now there are efforts to bring the historic building back to life.

"Our idea was to have a community center. We talked to the fire department about our plans and found out they were interested in using the building as a fire museum," said Michael Ruffin, a member of the Old No. 7 Community Center of Augusta, a nonprofit organization. "We decided to partner together and use it for both purposes."

The fire station served the Summerville area from 1913 to 2003. Over the years, firefighters built a close relationship with residents and the station became an integral part of the community, Dr. Ruffin said.

When the station was decommissioned, demolishing it was not an option, he said.

"We didn't want to lose the station from the fire administration. It has a lot of history and it means a lot to the people in this area," said Augusta-Richmond County Fire Chief Howard Willis, who also is the city's emergency management director.

"(Firefighters) have a lot of pride in what they do and want to share it with the public," Chief Willis said.

The museum will be on the station's first floor. It will feature displays of antique equipment and fire trucks, one of which is in the fire station already. It also will show the history of the fire department and major fires in Augusta. Fire-prevention programs will be provided to area schools at the site.

The community center, which will be on the second floor, is going to be comprehensive, said Dr. Billy Lynn, the chairman of the organization.

"My goal is to have things for everybody. Because of its location, it can draw from different neighborhoods, so it's going to a different type of center. Most centers are located in one neighborhood, for that neighborhood," Dr. Lynn said.

The community center will include a computer lab, fitness area and recital areas. It will have public health seminars, after-school programs, senior programs and a family mentoring program.

The station will need more than $1 million in renovations before the museum and community center can be opened, Dr. Ruffin said. "The building is still beautiful but it will take a lot to bring it up to modern, usable standards," he said.

During renovation, central heat and air and an elevator will be installed. Plans are to restore the building's original look.

Though officials are applying for grants for the projects, community support also is needed, Dr. Lynn said.

"We all want to give back to the community, but we can't do that by ourselves," he said. "It's going to be quite an undertaking but with the given leadership we have and the community working together, I think we can accomplish that."

Reach Nikasha Dicks at (706) 823-3336 or nikasha.dicks@augustachronicle.com.

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