BRADENTON – West Manatee Fire Rescue commissioners are considering building a new administration building, and they’ve narrowed down potential lots to purchase to two thanks to the help of consultant Bob Gause.
During a May 21 work session, Gause presented commissioners with a report on four available lots that removed two of them from the running – one next door to the district’s temporary offices at Palma Sola Presbyterian Church and another adjacent to King Middle School. Gause said the lot adjacent to the church property is partially used for stormwater retention and wouldn’t be of sufficient size to house an administration building and necessary parking. With the Manatee County School Board unwilling to part with the King Middle School adjacent lot, that choice also was eliminated.
The two options left to commissioners are the old dentist office on Third Avenue across from the church property and an undeveloped lot behind the Fountain Court Shopping Center where Bealls is located on Manatee Avenue.
Commissioners asked Chief Tom Sousa and Chief Ben Rigney to continue looking into the two lots and meet with the owners or their Realtors to see what price the district could get each location for. The undeveloped lot behind the shopping center has frontage on 63rd Street and is 1.88 acres, priced at $295,000. Because the site is undeveloped, Gause said it would require the installation of a lift station and directional boring to gain access to sewer utilities.
The old dentist office site is smaller at 0.65 acres and is priced at $525,000, including the existing office building which would need to be torn down to accommodate a new administration building. The bonus of acquiring this lot, Rigney said, is that it might be possible to share a generator with the nearby WMFR Station 1 on 67th Street.
No matter which lot commissioners choose, the building they’re considering is planned to be a hardened building that could potentially serve as a westside emergency operations center in the event of a hurricane. If commissioners choose to build a hardened building, it could also be created to withstand winds of up to 200 miles per hour.
WMFR’s other two fire stations, Stations 2 and 3, are both in flood plains and would have to be evacuated in the event of a hurricane, leaving Station 1, and potentially the administration building, as the only places to store both response teams and equipment during a storm event and in the aftermath if the other two stations were damaged or inaccessible.
District resident Derek Warner stepped up to offer commissioners his opinion as a former fire chief. Warner was a part of a team that responded to New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. He and other first responders from around the country were the ones who orchestrated cleanups, rescues and investigations in a place that was foreign to them after the city’s first responders were scattered due to the storm.
“You have to think about who you want running your disaster – you or people like me who don’t know your situation or community,” he said.
Only a couple of stations and a few pieces of fire equipment in New Orleans survived the hurricane, he noted.
With first responders scattered and unable to respond to emergencies, Warner said the city had to rely on people who were just coming to New Orleans and didn’t have the knowledge that local emergency workers had.
“You want to be in on this,” Warner advised. “You want to be the decisionmakers.”
He encouraged commissioners to not only consider building a hardened structure but one large enough that it could accommodate fire crews, EMS crews, local law enforcement and provide additional areas to store supplies and equipment.
WMFR commissioners are currently considering building a structure around 5,000 square feet or less with the possibility of an additional warehouse-type structure to house additional fire equipment if necessary.
The administration building discussion will continue on June 18 at the next WMFR commission meeting.