Demolition of Fire Station 13 on Siesta Key could come as early as May, making way for new two-story facility

County Commission approves commercial loan to finance the construction

Fire Station 13 is next to Siesta Public Beach. File photo

With other discussions already having consumed the morning, it was not until the afternoon of April 8 that the Sarasota County Commission finally addressed the solitary public hearing on its agenda that day.

Listed as a “Presentation Upon Request,” the item called for board votes on the borrowing of $6,234,000 from the Pooled Commercial Paper Loan Program of the Florida Local Government Finance Commission to pay for the construction of a new fire station on Siesta Key, as well as the expense of an Emergency Services Warehouse. The interest rate on the loan is estimated to be less than 2.5%, according to information provided to the commission in advance of the vote.

Over the past year, county staff has emphasized the need for replacing Fire Station 13, which stands next to the Siesta Public Beach Park. The ground-level facility dates to the early 1970s. Staff has planned a two-story structure similar in design to stations on Bee Ridge Road and South Tamiami Trail. The latter is near Westfield Sarasota Square.

On a motion by Commissioner Alan Maio, seconded by Commissioner Christian Ziegler, the five facets of the fire station/warehouse agenda item won unanimous approval. Among them, the board increased its contract with Willis A. Smith Construction of Sarasota to $5,923,707 for the Station 13 project. Along with loan proceeds, funding for the initiative will come out of the EMS and Fire Department impact fees the county collects, an April 8 county staff memo explained. The loan will be repaid with fire and EMS assessments, the memo noted.

Exactly a year — on April 10, 2019 — the commission agreed to a contract with Willis A. Smith Construction for the demolition of the existing fire station and the building of the new one.

In response to a Sarasota News Leader question, Sara Nealeigh, the media relations officer for the county’s Emergency Services Department, wrote in an April 7 email that no firm date had been set for the demolition. However, she added, administrative staff of the Sarasota County Fire Department told her, “[I]t looks like it could be sometime in May.”

This is the building immediately to the south of Fire Station 13, which will serve as the firefighters’ temporary headquarters. File photo

During a Feb. 18 presentation to members of the Siesta Key Condominium Council, Fire Chief Michael Regnier pointed out that construction was underway at the commercial building just south of Station No. 13, so the firefighters could use the first floor of that structure as their temporary headquarters until the new facility has been completed “in the exact same spot” where the existing one stands.

On Aug. 26, 2019, County Administrator Jonathan Lewis approved the lease agreement for use of the space in the commercial building located at 5700 Midnight Pass Road. That lease is not to exceed 36 months.

Staff anticipates construction of the new Fire Station 13 to take 16 to 18 months, Regnier told the Condo Council audience.

This rendering shows a night view of the planned new structure for Fire Station 13. Image courtesy Sarasota County

An exhibit attached to the amended contract with Willis A. Smith that the County Commission approved this week put the schedule for completion at 365 days, after the project gets underway, plus an extra 30 days for final “punch list” work. The normal hours for the construction crew, that amended contract said, will be Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

During his Condo Council presentation, Regnier pointed out that the current fire station “looks like a house. If you’ve been in it, it’s very small.”

The staff memo provided to the commissioners this week said the facility, which is located at 1170 Beach Road, comprises 5,000 square feet.

Regarding the new station, Regnier noted that the layout is “very well done.” He added that Fire Department staff members had made observations about the functionality of the Bee Ridge and South Tamiami Trail facilities that had led to tweaks of the design for the Siesta Key station. Therefore, he said, “It [will be] even better for the firefighters.”

Further, the county staff memo noted that “exterior modifications [will complement] the neighborhood and minor interior modifications [will be made] to meet current operational and beach rescue requirements.”

Sweet Sparkman Architects of Sarasota created the design.

And the new station will have a fire pole, Regnier said during the Condo Council meeting. The pole, he explained, “is a lot quicker [means]” for firefighters to get to their equipment from the upper story than the stairs in a two-story facility. Additionally, “[A] lot of safety components [are] built into the fire poles of today.”

In the event a hurricane is approaching the Key, he continued, the firefighters still will evacuate after the new station has been completed. However, he added, the modern facility “gives us the availability to come right back onto the island,” so firefighters will be ready to respond to calls from returning residents.

The Siesta Key Association (SKA) sent a letter to the County Commission this week, offering its support for the new fire station. The letter noted that representatives of the nonprofit attended an Aug. 20, 2019 informational meeting that county staff hosted. That session gave the public an opportunity to view a rendering of the proposed new facility and to learn about other facets of the project.

The letter, signed by SKA President Catherine Luckner, also noted “the warm welcome we received, as always, from Fire Chief Michael Regnier.”

The warehouse project

This aerial map shows the location of the property at 1805 Apex Road, marked by the red balloon. Image courtesy Google Maps

As for the Emergency Services Warehouse: The County Commission vote this week cleared the way for the $1.9-million purchase of a 16,000-square-foot warehouse located at 1805 Apex Road in Sarasota, which is being used as a manufacturing facility, the county staff memo explained.

The parcel and the building on it, owned by Alnic Properties LLC, had a market value of $1,341,200 in 2019, the Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office says.

The Emergency Services Department “warehouses a multitude of items associated with storm preparation, uniforms, janitorial and office supplies, and fire prevention in several facilities, both owned and leased, located throughout Sarasota County,” the memo pointed out. “Purchase and renovation of this warehouse, which is ideally located in close proximity to the Emergency Operations Center (EOC), will allow this facility to serve as an efficient, single-point of distribution to support Emergency Services operations,” the memo added.

Emergency Services is expected to be able to occupy the warehouse by Aug. 1, the memo noted.