An architectural rendering of what a new Clearwater Fire Station 45 might look like in the future. The city council recently approved plans for option 1, which is similar to the $13.3 million design city leaders rejected in October. By using different materials, finishes, amenities and eco-friendly options, the cost of the new design would be an estimated $11.4 million.
CLEARWATER – There is no doubt that old Fire Station 45, which was built in 1974 and also serves as the headquarters of the city’s fire department, has outlived its usefulness and needs to be replaced.
But the $500,000 question facing the Clearwater City Council Nov. 15 was whether to go with the replacement option that is more pleasing to the eye or the one that is more pleasing to the pocketbook.
Officials have long known that the old station was nearing the end of its useful life, and they budgeted $8 million for the project. So they were flabbergasted last month when fire Chief Robert Weiss brought them a plan for a station that would cost $13.3 million. They sent Weiss and the architects back to the drawing board to come up with a design that will meet the city’s needs without busting the budget. On Nov. 15, Weiss and Allen Temple, an architect with the HDR Engineering firm, brought back two designs and left it to the council to choose between them.
The new three-story Station 45 will not be built on the site of the current two-story Station 45 on Franklin Street near the corner of Garden Avenue. Instead, it will be built on a vacant parcel of land the city recently bought on Court Street, just east of South Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue.
At 32,839 square feet, Option 1 is similar to the $13.3 million design that Weiss submitted last month. But by using different materials, finishes, amenities and eco-friendly options, the total cost would be held down to $11.4 million.
Option 2 would be 1,400 square feet smaller than Option 1 and lack the brick walls and other exterior features that make Option 1 more pleasing to the eye. But at $10.9 million, it would be a half-million dollars cheaper than Option 1.
“I don’t like any of these options,” Vice Mayor Paul Gibson said. “I like Option 3, but there isn’t one.”
Gibson questioned why the new station would have 14 individual bedrooms when there are only 10 or 11 firefighters assigned to it. Chief Weiss replied that additional firefighters are sometimes assigned to the station on temporary duty. Besides, he said, additional firefighters might be permanently assigned to the station sometime in the future, and it’s cheaper to build their sleeping quarters as part of the original design than to add them later.
Gibson questioned why the station needs a 1,200 square-foot dining hall, the size of a condo or small house.
“It’s huge,” Gibson said. “This is a gigantic dining room for ten people.”
Weiss replied that, once again, he was looking to the future, when part of the 20-foot by 60-foot room might be needed for additional offices.
“We could have built a building that would mimic the current building,” Weiss said. “But we would have built a building that was too small for the functions that go on in a modern fire station.”
When asked if his office and the offices of other top fire department brass could be located off-site, Chief Weiss replied that the chain of command works better when the firefighters and the brass are in the same building.
“I like the fact that this is a 50-year structure,” Councilmember Jay Polglaze said.
Polglaze said that the drastic price increase since the original $8 million estimate was less due to inflation than to the fact that the $8 million figure was a ball-park estimate made with insufficient data, and the current estimates were more accurate reflections of the real cost.
The council decided that because the new fire station will be located in a location where it will be seen by thousands of beachgoers every day for the next half-century, it was worth the extra $500,000 to have a better-looking building. They unanimously voted to go with Option 1, but Vice Mayor Gibson wasn’t happy about it.
“This is a real hold-your-nose vote I’m going to have to make,” Gibson said. “I don’t like this at all.”