St. Petersburg Times

Palm Harbor opts for new fire station
Fire commissioners choose to build a new station for $2.6-million instead of remodeling one for $1.9-million.
By TERRI BRYCE REEVES
Published April 19, 2005

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PALM HARBOR - A building committee has spent two years studying ways to renovate Palm Harbor Fire Rescue's outmoded firehouse at Station 65.

But those plans were quickly doused when officials discovered it wouldn't cost much more to build a state-of-the-art facility that would be twice the size of the current one.

"The renovations were going to cost $1.9-million and a brand-new facility would cost $2.6-million," said Division Chief Mark Snow, the department's liaison with the architects and builders. "So the Palm Harbor Board of Fire Commissioners made a decision to approve a new building. It just made more sense."

The existing station at 250 West Lake Road should come down around the end of this year; the new one is expected to be completed sometime near the end of 2006.

The only question left is what the department will do in the meantime.

"We aren't sure what will happen, but we are looking at all options," said Snow. While some administrative units can be moved to the fire department's other three stations, he said at least one advanced life support engine, which carries paramedics, must remain in the immediate area to serve the southeast portion of the fire district.

"We may put up an office trailer or look at apartments or office space," he said.

The 10,000-square-foot, two-story building, which also serves as headquarters for Palm Harbor Fire Rescue, was built in 1988 and designed to house four or five personnel during a shift. But the surrounding residential area has spread like wildfire and so have the demands. In the late 1980s, the station answered about 2,000 calls a year. Now the number of calls is nearing 5,000.

As a result, the station no longer meets the department's needs. The dated physical fitness room is the size of a large closet. And the firefighters share tiny bedrooms next to the noisy kitchen and lounge area.

"Everything is tight," said Snow. "There is no storage room left."

The building also is riddled with structural problems. The leaky roof "has been problematic for 10 to 15 years," Snow said. The plumbing leaks, as evidenced from stained ceiling tiles on the first floor. Mold lurks behind the walls.

The new two-story building will be about 20,000 square feet, with about 15,000 square feet of air-conditioned space. It will meet hurricane-preparedness guidelines and upgraded wind-load requirements. It will also be more secure should any terrorist threats arise.

The ground floor will house 15 administrative offices, a large training and meeting room, a break room, and an emergency operations center.

Scout, the arson-detecting yellow lab, will have his own air-conditioned den and an outside run.

The second floor will have 10 bedrooms for on-duty emergency response personnel, a bigger kitchen with four refrigerators, an expanded dining area, and a much larger gym with new workout equipment.

Four apparatus bays will replace the current three and will accommodate up to eight fire-rescue emergency response vehicles.

The project is a joint venture with Klar and Klar Architects of Clearwater and Walker & Associates Architects of Safety Harbor.

The new facility should find firefighters better rested and more physically fit, Palm Harbor District Chief Dan Zinge said.

"It will help boost morale," he said.

Lt. Michelle Brown asked Snow if she would have a bathroom of her own. Right now, the crews share two communal bathrooms.

He assured her, as a lieutenant, she would.

"Oh, good. I may just put up some frilly little curtains," she said in jest.