The inside of the IRB Public Works building is nearly complete following the 2016 fire that destroyed the building.
INDIAN ROCKS BEACH – It has often been said that when something bad happens, something good will come out of it. In the case of the Public Works Building in Indian Rocks Beach that is precisely the case.
Eighteen months ago, in March 2016, the Public Works Building located behind city hall burned to the ground. All that was saved were the steel girders that kept the building upright.
Several vehicles were destroyed in the fire as was other equipment needed for the day to day operation of the city. It was a dark day.
Now, all these months later, the city has moved back into the same space. They’ re-built the building, replaced all the lost equipment, including the vehicles, and according to City Manager Gregg Mims, they are better off than before.
“We now have a brand new building,” he said. “We stripped it down to the steel beams; it is hurricane and flood protected. We’ve not had to spend any city money or general fund money; we’re very pleased about that.”
Mims was particularly happy with their insurance company and the way the entire event was handled.
“I have nothing but positive to say about that,” he said. “They treated us very well; they made us whole.”
The city’s insurance company is PRM, Public Risk Management, which specializes in insuring municipalities.
“We got $1.6 million from the fire,” said Mims. “That’s what came from our property insurance; it has been a huge positive for us.”
It is likely no one was thinking that positively on the morning of the fire.
Public Works Director Dean Scharmen discovered the fire when he came to work at 6:30 a.m.
“I smelled smoke but didn’t think much of it,” he said. “Then when I went out back I really smelled the smoke and water was coming down the driveway of the building, I knew something was wrong then.”
Scharmen said he cautiously checked each door of the building. When he got to the third door, he discovered it was hot. He didn’t open it.
“I’m fortunate that I found it,” he said. “If you were to just roll up there and open the door you never know what could happen with a burst of fresh air.”
That job was left to the fire department, which eventually extinguished the blaze inside, but not before the damage was done with the intense heat melting vehicles inside.
The water that Scharmen saw came from inside where the fire had melted the PVC pipes.
Mims remembers that morning as well.
“When Dean called me and told me about the fire and that no one was injured, my first thoughts were that we had to keep operating,” he said.
Before the week was out Mims had secured a deal with the owner of the old GTE building on Walsingham Road just east of Gulf Boulevard.
“That building had been vacant for years so it worked out great for us,” he said. “If it hadn’t been available we would have had to move off the island, to some warehouse in Largo somewhere. In IRB it was the only building that we could have used for storage and parking. We walked right in, it was perfect for us, it couldn’t have been any better.”
Still, the employees are happy to be coming home. Scharmen said as good as it was the GTE building had its faults.
“The building had no access to outside air, there are no windows in the place,” he said. “We’ll be happy to get into the new building for that reason alone, just to get outside air in the building. But we made it work; it was a daunting task but we made it work.”
“Our guys who worked in the GTE building are thrilled to be coming back into the new building,” said Mims.
The cause of the fire appears to have been faulty wiring in a brand new sweeper truck that the city had gotten just three days before. The fire broke out in the middle of the night as the truck was just sitting there, turned off. The heat was so intense that the truck melted to the concrete floor of the building and the spot where it was parked will be forever identifiable because the concrete had to be removed to get the truck out and a new slab has been poured in that spot.
Lost in the fire were two pickup trucks, that sweeper truck, a brand new tractor, a backhoe and Mims said just as important were all the tools that were destroyed.
Mims said they were careful when they replaced the building to demonstrate they could be good neighbors. Special landscaping has been done and the outside of the building has been adorned with fancy hurricane shutters and canopies.
“It was a commitment I made to the neighbors when I first got here,” he said. “We landscaped all around the building and we’ve put up a privacy fence to replace the old wooden one. We also did the backside of City Hall to make it all more aesthetically pleasing; it all matches.”
On a recent tour of the building Mims was all smiles as he proudly pointed out the improvements. For him it ended 18 long months of upheaval. Now it was finally over.
“As complicated as it was to deal with, it couldn’t have been any better,” he said.