OCEAN CITY – There is no disputing the Ocean City Beach Patrol needs a new headquarters to call home, but how to go about it and how to fund it continues to be a mystery.
Last week the Mayor and City Council toured Ocean City Beach Patrol headquarters in advance of last Tuesday’s presentation of the draft Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) 2014-2018. The CIP draft outlined a number of proposed infrastructure projects to move ahead in the next five years and a plan to build new downtown headquarters for the patrol was included.
Ocean City is currently finalizing the plan but city staff is asking the Mayor and Council to keep the needs of the OCBP in mind as the town is preparing to go to the bond market to fund the already approved Roland E. Powell Convention Center’s performing arts center and other CIP projects.
This was not the first time the urgency for a new patrol headquarters was brought to the Mayor and Council’s attention. As recently as last May, City Engineer Terry McGean presented the legislative body with the decrepitated facility and was approved for $165,000 to go toward a design of a new facility to be reimbursed in a future bond issue. The council authorized McGean and staff to begin the Request for Proposal process to hire a design firm.
McGean reported at that time the existing facilities are all in need of significant repairs both cosmetic and structural. A brief examination of the existing buildings revealed significant issues, such as numerous ADA violations, nonfunctioning sprinkler systems, asbestos siding, cracks in exterior masonry walls, and all the buildings’ first floors are below the FEMA Base Flood Elevation.
Last Friday OCBP Captain Butch Arbin gave The Dispatch a tour of the patrol’s operation on Dorchester Street. He explained the current location has been designated as a temporary location and will be used at some time in the future for downtown redevelopment, but the beach patrol has never had a facility designed and constructed for its exclusive use.
“We have always been moved into an existing facility and needed to make it meet our needs,” he said.
Headquarters currently occupies three buildings on Dorchester Street between Baltimore and Philadelphia avenues, which used to serve as the old Ocean City Police Department (OCPD) and District Court facilities. In 1993, the buildings were deemed unsuitable for the OCPD and District Court and the city vacated the property, moving into the new Public Safety Building on 65th Street.
At that time, the OCBP was stationed on the Boardwalk. Without notice to the beach patrol, Public Works was directed to pack up the OCBP and move the department to the old OCPD and District Court buildings once they became vacant. The beach patrol’s former headquarters on the Boardwalk was demolished and rebuilt to become what is currently a new police substation.
Arbin furthered the town has been buying properties throughout the block where headquarters now stands with the hopes of eventually owning all properties and selling the land as a model block to the public sector.
The concept has been a long-term goal for years and former Councilman Joe Hall made a motion two years ago to tear down the patrol’s headquarters a week before the summer season started to turn the space into a large parking lot without anywhere for the beach patrol to relocate. The motion failed.
“They have talked about building an aquarium, a parking garage, even an IMAX Theater … but that hasn’t happened,” Arbin said.
Walking though the buildings, water damage is prevalent with holes and water stains from the ceilings to the floor and the smell of mold hovering throughout the air.
“The biggest problem is the constant water damage. Not just rising water but because the buildings are so old rain water saturates through the buildings leading to the mold problem. I don’t want them to condemn the building because we still have no place to go,” Arbin said.
The current configuration is not an efficient use of space due to headquarters being spread out over three separate buildings, Arbin said. OCBP uses every inch of each building between office and training space, repair and maintenance space and storage.
The old OCPD office building that once held the Criminal Investigation Division on the first floor has been converted into OCBP’s gym, computer lab and even the old interrogation rooms have been converted into OCBP’s storage for records. There is also a conference room paired with the OCBP Public Information Coordinator’s office that is mostly used for storage.
The second floor is where OCBP dispatch is located and what once served as OCPD office space does the same for OCBP as Arbin’s office once was the chief of police’s office.
The next building over behind the old District Court is where the original Ocean City Fire Station was located before being handed over to the OCPD. The first floor where the old OCPD garage was is also used as a garage by OCBP to store and maintain five wave runners, 12 ATVs and many paddle boards.
The garage holds the only bathroom available to all 200-plus OCBP employees that contains a toilet, sink and one shower that is outdated and in need of significant repair. Next to the garage on the same floor is the OCBP’s radio room and workshop area that is also used for storage.
The second floor of the building is the old OCPD property room and barracks that now serves as OCBP storage and training space. The old OCPD showers stores hundreds of buoys, and what was once a bathroom provides a space to repair umbrellas.
There are several different closets that also store hundreds of umbrellas and different equipment, such as binoculars and megaphones, plus shelves of clothing that is returned, cleaned and stored on an annual basis, such as swimsuits, T-shirts, shorts, sweat pants, sweatshirts and several different styles of hats. There is also dry and heated storage for First Aid supplies and sunscreen.
In the attic of this building, clothing rods have been hung along the sides and center where all rain gear is hung and stored. During the off-season, the entire attic’s entire floor space is covered with other equipment.
The final building is the old District Court, which both the OCBP and OCPD still utilize since first floor serves as the police department’s bike storage and work shop.
Most of the second floor is taken up by a large classroom/training room with rows of tables and chairs. Awards and group pictures of each year’s patrol dating back to 1971 are hung on the walls.
The old judge’s quarters is where the OCBP stores CPR and First Aid training equipment, and there is also the Junior Beach Patrol office since the camp’s participants meet in the classroom in the morning and walk together down Dorchester St. to cross Baltimore Ave. and take their activities to the beach.
The classroom/training room is also used by the community for public CPR and First Aid courses as well as where Marine Mammal Rescue training takes place.
In the past, potential OCBP facilities were evaluated and have included private properties for sale and existing city property but OCPB desires to remain downtown for a number of reasons.
Staff has recommended the new OCBP headquarters be constructed on three parcels recently purchased by the Ocean City Development Corporation (OCDC) between Talbot and Dorchester streets. The OCDC does have a mortgage for the proposed lot and has developed temporary parking of 33 spaces there.
The new headquarters has been proposed to be a 10,700-square-foot facility comprised of office space, training areas, locker rooms and equipment storage that would house OCBP along with the OCPD bicycle storage and repair facility. The estimated cost is $2 million.
Last week OCDC President Bob Givarz submitted a letter of support for a new headquarters to be located in the downtown area. The letter stated, “when the OCPD vacated this building in 1993, one of the contributing factors for them to leave was the condition of the building. The building has not gotten better over the past 20 years and probably gotten much worse. Interest rates are low for construction financing and expectations high for a new facility. Now is the time to act on a new building for Beach Patrol, rather than allow this important first rate Ocean City division to continue to operate in a subpar facility.”
The letter furthered, “since the OCDC started in 2000 they have discussed assembling land on this block and attracting a redeveloper. The town of Ocean City and OCDC have purchased four properties to allow this to occur. We all knew the Beach Patrol facility needed to be relocated for this long term plan. Let’s make it happen now rather than still be discussing this project next decade.”
According to Arbin, there are many benefits of keeping OCBP headquarters downtown, starting with the facility being surrounded by several buildings owned by OCDC that provides employee housing for both OCBP and OCPD. In the event of off-hours emergency, OCBP can access a large number of trained Surf Rescue Technicians (SRTs), or lifeguards, and quickly deploy them with readily available resources.
The headquarters would also be located near several natural resources, such as the Inlet and Pier that provide a unique training location due to the continual presence of currents and other water hazards. This is also an area that has had a disproportionate number of off-duty water related incidents.
One of the main reasons OCBP wishes to remain downtown is the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) station is located only a couple blocks away that provides the beach patrol with several advantages — quick access to floating dock to launch rescue watercraft, access to forward deployment of Maryland State Police helicopter, access to controlled deep water training basin, access to USCG vessel for Search and Rescue (SAR) missions and the closest access for retrieving personnel and victims recovered from ocean.
Arbin added Dorchester Street gives the best access in the south end for emergency vehicles to enter and exit the beach quickly in emergency situations. Dorchester Street serves as an emergency outlet as a fire station is located practically across from the OCBP.
Arbin concluded OCBP is one of the most visible Town of Ocean City departments it should be in a facility that is well maintained and visually pleasing.
“We are the beach patrol. We are the largest ambassador of Ocean City and when people come to see our facility this is what they get. For the beach patrol being so important to the Town of Ocean City, you really want to have it as a showcase,” Arbin said.