OCEAN CITY – The City Council reluctantly took measures to ensure that the Ocean City Fire Department could take their “next step” in yet another split 4-3 vote Tuesday.
Chief Chris Larmore and City Engineer Terry McGean brought back the idea of using $54,000 in bond money to design an expansion of the uptown Station 4 firehouse, commonly known as the “Montego Bay” firestation, which would enable the department to provide “live-in” quarters for its volunteer and career firemen.
The idea was temporarily shelved in November, but Larmore urged the council to reassess the need for at least the first part of the process.
“The north end of Ocean City as we all know has grown significantly in the last 30 years, but the fire houses have not,” said Larmore. “There hasn’t been a major expansion or renovation of any fire house north of 15th Street for over 30 years. As the needs have changed on the north end of town, so has the need for staffing and equipment.”
According to Larmore, “live-in programs” have been successful in the past and have thrived recently in Bethany Beach for both retention and recruitment of personnel. He said currently the department is “busting at the seams” in terms of livable space for the firemen.
“This is a priority for us so we can take the next step in our department. The concept that Terry [McGean] is presenting is so we can have this ready for when funding becomes available,” said Larmore.
The concept, as Larmore said, was simply to ask the City Council to use bonded money to pay for the first two phases of design for the expansion, which would provide a “good cost estimate and good drawings”, according to McGean, whose main selling point was that no money would come out of the general fund.
“There is 12,000 in previous bond money sitting there from a prior study that we did, and I am well under budget for the Northside Park concession stand project,” said McGean, “so I’m asking council to allow me to contract Design Atlantic (based in Salisbury) for phase one and two of the firehouse design for $54,000.”
The expansion of the Montego Bay firehouse is approximated at $2 million, and the hope, according to McGean, is that the designs will be completed so that it is deemed “shovel ready” if and when the new administration in Washington follows through on a pledge to fund “shovel ready” projects.
“My feeling is that this is a high priority project and we’d like to have this ready if funding becomes available. The idea is to get ahead of the game, so we know what we are going to do when the time comes that we could do it,” said McGean.
The council, on the other hand, was not as easily swayed on the subject, first letting a motion die that would have essentially rubberstamped the idea, and then arguing that the project should be sent out to bid to get another price other than the $54,000 from Design Atlantic.
“I have a problem with arbitrarily handing out this kind of money without going to bid, even though I do agree that the building is in need of renovation,” said Doug Cymek.
Councilman Jim Hall agreed and hoped to get, at the very least, a second opinion.
“If anything ever screamed for a Request For Proposal [RFP], this is it. I don’t see you building this structure for a few years, and who knows if these drawings will grow old or stale by then. We don’t even really know what we want there yet, but it’s not going to take a genius to figure out that building. I think we certainly have a month to wait on this and we might save a lot of money,” he said.
Mayor Rick Meehan, on the other hand, thought that the issue of an RFP was a mute point as Design Atlantic had been hired by way of the RFP process in 2001.
“There was an RFP done and that should substantiate the arguments here. Design Atlantic has continued to work with us throughout this whole process. It should be who the right person is for the job and not just the cost,” said Meehan.
Council President Joe Mitrecic noted that there would be essentially no chance the project would receive any money from the proposed stimulus package if it is not designed first, adding the price was well worth the cost.
“Fifty-four thousand dollars is light for this project, and I don’t think we’d find anyone that would do this project for less. I support this, and it’s the next step for public safety and the department,” he said.
Meehan also spoke about how similar enhancements helped the Bethany Beach fire department.
“When Bethany Beach supplied these amenities and remodeled their fire station, it was a real boost for their volunteer organization and helped grow the department, said Meehan. “The majority of our calls do take place in the north end of town, and many of our volunteers travel long distances, so anything we can do to place more firefighters in that area is providing additional safety for our residents, our properties, and our visitors, is the right thing to do. It’s time to move forward with this, as it’s the next logical step.”