BELLEAIR BLUFFS – A long talked about new fire station to replace current Largo Fire Station 43 on Indian Rocks Road could be under construction by early next year.
Belleair Bluffs Mayor Chris Arbutine said at the Feb. 24 City Commission meeting that the project is “back on track.”
The station would be built on city-owned property near City Hall that Belleair Bluffs acquired in 2007. The proposed station had been last discussed in May of last year. At that time, a three-party agreement including Largo, Belleair Bluffs and Belleair being pushed by Largo had been deemed unacceptable by Belleair Bluffs. There was talk of moving the station site to the Belleview Biltmore Golf Course property that Belleair had recently acquired.
Issues that could not be worked out stalled plans for a new station at that time. Other factors such as Largo’s transitioning to a new fire chief kept the topic on hold until recently. Then last week the project got restarted with a meeting between Largo, Belleair Bluffs and Belleair officials.
“We basically got reacquainted with the topic after 10 months,” Arbutine said of the session. Issues such as whether Largo would own the station or lease it from Belleair Bluffs and the terms of a fire services agreement with Belleair still needed to be worked out, Arbutine said.
Belleair Bluffs does not want to repeat another situation like the pullout of Belleair that resulted in the dissolving of the Bluffs fire department, followed by an expensive pension payment to its former firefighters, he stressed.
Still, Arbutine said progress toward reaching a new agreement and getting a new station built was “pretty much on track.”
City Clerk Debra Sullivan, who also attended the meeting, said she expects the new station talks to go quite quickly. She said there were a lot of positives expressed. “We’re reviewing the station plans for compliance with our codes,” she said.
Sullivan said cuts in funding at the county level and changes in the EMS system make the Bluffs site even more vital geographically as the station’s location.
Arbutine said the new station’s $3 million expected cost is an issue. “We need to talk about how we do that and cover ourselves.”
Arbutine, like Sullivan, predicted the plans to build the new station “will really take off once we get going,” and the issues will be quickly resolved.
“A year from now, we could be building a new fire station,” he said.
Commission members and residents had questions about the station. Commissioner Joe Barkley wanted to know if the station’s design had changed. It hasn’t, said Arbutine, but he said nothing is set in concrete about the design, and anything done will come to the commission for approval.
Resident Jim Molohon asked why the existing fire station, at 682 Indian Rocks Road, cannot be refurbished. It is an old gas station and has major inadequacies and problems, Arbutine said. He mentioned exhaust leaking from the fire trucks into the station and a roof that badly needs replacement. Plus, a drive-in station is needed, not one where the fire trucks have to back in.
Arbutine said the existing station “is old and dilapidated. How long is it going to last?” The building would need a major restoration, and it still would not be properly designed by today’s standards.
Fire station gets new engine
The fire station recently got a brand new fire engine, Sullivan said. The old engine has been put on reserve status, she said.
“We are working on getting the Bluffs insignia back on the new truck,” Sullivan said.