Hurricane-hardened firefighting facility expected to be completed in April 2022
On April 13, under a sunny sky with the temperature hovering around 70 degrees, two Sarasota County commissioners, county Fire Chief Michael Regnier and other county leaders gathered under a tent at 6750 Bee Ridge Road.
As board Chair Alan Maio noted, “It’s rare that we do a groundbreaking and a ribbon cutting the same day, just a few yards away from each other.”
The groundbreaking was for the new, hurricane-hardened Fire Station 9. The ribbon cutting marked the official opening of a new county fuel facility at the same site.
“This is a great day for Sarasota County Fire Department and Sarasota County Government,” Regnier pointed out.
“I spent a lot of years at this fire station as I progressed through the ranks,” Regnier continued, “and I can tell you, that during storms,” when the firefighters had to be relocated to another, safer facility, “it always bothered me. It would be a little bit longer,” Regnier said, after the storm passed through the area, before the Fire Station 9 crew members could return to their facility and then head out to help people affected by the weather event.
After the new station has been completed, he pointed out, “We can stay. … As soon as the storm is over, we can respond immediately to any needs … out in the community.”
The original facility — “a pre-manufactured metal building” — was constructed in 1977, a county staff memo noted. It “[did] not offer gender privacy and [was] not Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant,” the memo added.
“We don’t build block buildings and don’t even stucco the outside,” Maio emphasized during his April 13 remarks. “A county’s civic and public buildings are an indication of what that county is all about.”
Maio pointed out that this will be the seventh new fire station constructed since he joined the County Commission in November 2014. “We’re closing down the metal buildings.”
Given the station’s proximity to Interstate 75, Regnier noted, the crews handle “a lot of calls” among the approximately 60,000 the county receives every year. The location, he said, is “very, very important. … I can’t wait to see this fire station be built.”
Then, adding a bit of levity, Regnier noted that he lives in close proximity to the site. He plans to drive by each day, he continued, to check on the progress of the construction.
Addressing the employees of the contractor, Willis A. Smith Construction of Lakewood Ranch, Regnier added, “Sorry about that.”
Completion of the new fire station is expected in April 2022, a county document said.
Maio also pointed out that the new station will serve as a medical supply hub, which will be another boon to the county’s 560 firefighters/paramedics as they serve the community.
A county project fact sheet, updated earlier this month, explains that the new fire station will have three bays, and it will be constructed above the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) floodplain. The facility has been designed to withstand Category 4 hurricane winds.
The total cost of the fire station/fuel site project is $7,391,523, according to the fact sheet. On June 3, 2020, the County Commission approved the construction contracts.
The county staff memo provided to the board in advance of that June 2020 meeting explained that the funding for the projects came from EMS Impact Fees, County Fire Impact Fees, South County Impact Fees and a county borrow from a state program established and administered by the Florida Local Government Finance Commission. The portion of the loan funds that went to the fire station initiative will be repaid with fire and EMS assessments ($4,693,737), the memo added.
SchenkelShultz Architecture of Sarasota handled the design, which cost $659,000, the fact sheet noted.
While the project is underway, county documents explained, the firefighters/paramedics will operate out of a modular housing unit and tent that was relocated from the county’s Apex Road fire station site to the Bee Ridge property. Thus, an ambulance and fire truck will continue to respond to calls from 6750 Bee Ridge Road.
As for the fuel facility: Jeff Lowdermilk, director of the county’s General Services Department, pointed out that staff maintains four fueling sites around the county. Because the Bee Ridge site is so close to the interstate, Lowdermilk added, it “will be a highly utilized [facility].”
Many people are unaware that, following Hurricane Irma’s strike on the state in September 2017, “Our fuel sites were within about 24 hours of running out of fuel,” Lowdermilk said. That situation resulted from issues related to that storm, including supply and delivery problems.
Sarasota County was “actually in better shape” than neighboring counties, Lowdermilk continued.
The new Bee Ridge facility, he explained, has replaced two 15,000-gallon underground tanks — for diesel and unleaded fuel — with two 20,000-gallon underground tanks. Those will enable the county to be more resilient after a natural disaster or other type of emergency, Lowdermilk pointed out.
The site also has a dedicated lane for law enforcement officers, Maio told the group assembled for the ceremony.
The county staff memo provided to the commissioners in June 2020 explained that the fuel facility was “at end of useful life. The tanks, lines, wiring, canopy and dispensers are becoming unreliable. Parts are obsolete and difficult to find.”