OCEAN CITY — Responding to a “911 call” of sorts from the Ocean City Fire Department, resort officials Thursday voted to replace the dilapidated Station 3 firehouse at 74th Street with a new state-of-the-art firehouse in front of the Public Safety Building at 66th Street.
The midtown Station 3 firehouse at 74th Street was first built in 1969 and expanded in 1987. In the decades since, despite some Band-Aid fixes over the years, it has fallen into disrepair and no longer meets the needs of the fire department. The existing firehouse lacks suitable engine bay space, has inadequate living space for staff and the overhead door clearance is insufficient for new equipment. Additionally, there are concerns whether the existing building is structurally sound, it lacks co-ed facilities and does not meet the current fire industry standards for stations. All the shortcomings led to the realization the midtown fire station would need to be replaced at some point. The questions remained, however, about when and where, and perhaps more importantly how much it would cost.
Those questions were answered late Thursday afternoon at City Hall during a budget work session. In recent years, the discussion revolved around renovating the existing firehouse at 74th Street, demolishing the existing building and replacing it with a new facility, or building an entirely new Station 3 midtown firehouse on the vast open parking lot in front of the Public Safety Building at 66th Street.
After hearing an impassioned plea from Ocean City Fire Chief Richie Bowers on Thursday, the Mayor and Council opted to move forward with the latter.
“This is our 911 call to the Mayor and Council and the city manager. We need a new station that is functional,” he said. “I’m extremely concerned if we have another storm, a Nor’easter or, God forbid, a major hurricane, I don’t know if that building would survive that.”
The new fire station at 66th Street would cost an estimated $5.5 million, although that price could come down with a contribution from the Ocean City Volunteer Fire Company (OCVFC), which owns the land on which the existing midtown fire station at 74th Street sits and has offered to sell the property at its highest value and contribute the proceeds of the sale to the cost of building the new fire station.
Currently, the property is appraised by the state at $1.5 million, but it would likely fetch a higher sale price on the market. If it sold at that $1.5 million price, for example, the overall price of the new fire station could be reduced to $4 million. There are other creative ways the OCVFC could contribute, but in any case, the company would like to somehow retain some ownership stake in the new facility.
Before the council Thursday, City Engineer Terry McGean outlined the shortcomings of the existing firehouse and the many years a replacement has been discussed.
“We’ve been talking about this since 2000, he said. “We’ve been talking about replacing this building for 21 years.”
McGean explained the inadequate living space in the existing firehouse, which is often shared with career firefighters and volunteers. He said there are times when there are as many as nine men and women firefighters sharing the living quarters, which measure just 1,000 square feet. He used the analogy of offices in City Hall that are bigger.
“My office suite behind you is 1,300 square feet, and we don’t live there, eat there and sleep there,” he said. “The fire marshal’s office upstairs is 1,800 square feet. I just wanted to stress that, so you get a feel for just how small it is.”
McGean pointed out the piecemeal approach to keeping the existing firehouse up and running over the years is unsustainable.
“The high roof blew off in a storm in 2007 and was replaced with a lower cost, low warranty roof,” he said. “That’s what’s been going on with this. Our policy has been let’s not spend a lot of money because it might be replaced soon. That was 14 years ago.”
McGean said the town could keep dumping money into the old, dilapidated firehouse, but the time was right to move forward with a replacement.
“Short-term fixes needed ASAP would cost around $4,700,” he said. “If we were going to stay here longer, maybe two to three years, we’d probably have to spend $320,000.”
After the council agreed to move forward with moving the midtown fire station to 66th Street, the next step is to complete design and engineering work and develop cost estimates. Depending on the timetable, funding for the new firehouse could be included in the town’s next bond issuance.