OCEAN CITY – Given the extra space with the early removal of the 15th Street water tower, city officials hesitantly suspended the renovation of the Ocean City Fire Department (OCFD) headquarters to allow for time to re-evaluate a potential rebuild.
In July 2014, the Mayor and City Council approved the design of a renovated fire headquarters on 15th Street. The renovation and addition comes to a total of $2 million with $1.5 million originally allocated in the bond and $500,000 coming from savings from the Boardwalk reconstruction and Fire Station 4 project.
In December 2012, the need for the project was presented to the Mayor and City Council. Deputy Fire Marshal Cliff Christello reviewed with the council at that time the 15th Street building was built in 1960 and consists of 18,000 square feet with bunk rooms, meeting area, dispatch area and administrative offices for the OCFD.
In 2008, the City Fire Marshal, Emergency Medical Services and the Ocean City Volunteer Fire Company were combined under a single command structure, and the current headquarters building cannot adequately meet the needs of the occupants, OCFD officials maintain.
The design calls for the replacement of the roof, windows and doors to fix leakage that has been occurring over a long period of time as well as all new siding. Space that has been lost during previous renovations will be replaced such as a board room and storage when bunk rooms expanded and a training room and exercise room was created.
The garage space will also be expanded with a new engine bay to accommodate larger apparatus, and most importantly indoor air quality will be improved with a new HVAC system. Currently, because of the configuration of the building and its duct work, OCFD staff and volunteers struggle with the air quality in the bunk rooms due to the exhaust fumes.
According to the design plans, the first addition is to the south creating 1,980 square feet of new space. Between the first and second floor, the addition will be used for offices, computer work area and a conference room as well as adding an ADA restroom as there is currently none.
The second addition is to the west creating 1,872 square feet of new space that increases the size of the north engine bay on the first floor and adds a new tool room. On the second floor it allows for a new exercise room, storage room and bunk room.
However, City Engineer Terry McGean and Fire Chief Chris Larmore came before the Mayor and City Council on Tuesday to explain the water tower that currently resides on 25 percent of headquarters’ footprint will be removed earlier than thought. Therefore, they suggested plans be changed to better accommodate the OCFD needs.
According to McGean, bids for the approved renovation were to go out this month but during the water and sewer rate study process, the schedule for the water tank consolidation, including the removal of the water tank at 15th Street, was able to be moved up from 2017-2018 to the fall of 2016.
McGean furthered, based on this new information and OCFD concerns regarding the size and configuration of the existing engine bays, which could not be addressed in the proposed design, the OCFD is requesting that the current proposed project be suspended and re-evaluated as well as retain $250,000 for immediate improvements to the existing bunk room heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems and for consulting fees for re-design of the building.
Out of the $2 million budget, $105,000 has already been spent for the proposed design and pre-construction services and $210,000 has been spent on utility relocations, which would have been needed regardless of the design direction.
According to Larmore, the Volunteer Fire Company approached him upon learning of the early water tower removal with a suggestion that a larger engine bay could not be built as a result.
“At this point, we felt we should bring to you the change in the reconfiguration to see if in fact we are better in revisiting this versus finding ourselves five to six years down the road in a proverbial situation where we threw good money out for bad,” the chief said.
Council Secretary Mary Knight was frustrated over the potential change in plans especially with $105,000 of taxpayer money already being spent on the current renovation design. She asked how much a rebuild would cost if the new recommendation is to do so. McGean replied at least $6 million.
“In 2001, the Fire Company asked to include money in the bond issuance for roof leaks and the HVAC … In 14 years, we haven’t fixed the problem that started this because every time we start down the road we stop and change our mind. The building has to be in much worse condition than it was before. The fact is it still sits on the same footprint,” Councilman Dennis Dare.
Dare pointed out the area of 15th Street is a flood zone during major storms, which is the department’s busiest moments and asked if the recommendation is to rebuild if there has been any thought into relocating.
Larmore responded there has been discussion with Public Works in potentially rebuilding headquarters on the southern portion of the block that is currently a parking lot, which would allow for the current building to operate in the interim.
Dare furthered the department’s request includes if the project is suspended to reallocate other headquarters budget to other capital improvement projects. For Dare, the 74thStreet Fire Station came to mind.
“What I know about 74th Street is it is a small building that only accommodates a very limited amount of equipment. It was built when uptown was much less developed … and now midtown and uptown have a lot of property and lives to protect. It is time to build an adequate midtown station like we did uptown on 130th Street,” Dare said.
Councilman Tony DeLuca was also frustrated over the request coming with no backup information, such as the items Dare was bringing up.
“According to the recommendation, you want to re-evaluate your goals and priorities, and it sounds like you didn’t do that eight months ago … just seems like the change in direction doesn’t make sense,” DeLuca said.
Councilman Wayne Hartman questioned the requested $250,000, of which $125,000 is for a new HVAC system in the existing headquarters.
“That is something that needs to happen this year, and if we go down this course where we are going to suspend this project and whether we are doing a new build or not we are still a couple years away before something happens and we need to address the air quality now,” McGean said.
Hartman agreed and made a motion to spend $125,000 on a new HVAC system to improve air quality at the existing headquarters and to suspend renovations until the OCFD re-evaluates its overall needs.
“I agree that we need to look at an overall plan, but I do not want this to take another year,” Knight said. “I am really upset over the $105,000 [from design and pre-construction services]. That is taxpayer’s money that will be essentially wasted, so if we can come up with an overall plan that can show savings and better service I will be on board.”
Hartman amended his motion to add a 90-day deadline for the OCFD to have a new plan presented to the Mayor and City Council by the end of June.
“As you have asked for a 90-day re-visitation period, and while I appreciate your allocation to improve the air quality, I don’t know if that is going to address the issue,” Larmore said. “I don’t believe we need to spend $125,000 to put in an all new HVAC system in 90 days when within those 90 days we are going to know what we need to do.”
McGean added the timeframe would not allow for a new HVAC system to be installed prior to the summer season and would have to be put off to the offseason.
Hartman amended his motion to suspend the renovation of headquarters at this time with the department to return to the Mayor and City Council in 90 days with a recommendation regarding the overall needs of the fire department. No funding will be allocated for repairs at this time. If during the 90 days, professional out-of-house services are needed in coming up with a new plan then staff can come to the Mayor and City Council for approval at that time.
The council voted unanimously to approve.