Marco Island ready to break ground on Fire Rescue Station 50, built to stand up to 205-mph winds

Adam Regan
Naples Daily News
Rendering of Fire Station 50 and emergency center on Marco Island.

When Chris Byrne attends Tuesday’s groundbreaking for Marco Island’s soon-to-be rebuilt Fire Rescue Station 50 it will be the end of one era and the start of a new one.

As a firefighter, the city’s fire chief spent the first night in the station that was built in 1992, spent most of his career there, will be there for its demolition and at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new station in 16 months.

It will be a bittersweet moment for Byrne as he recognizes the need for a new station that can withstand winds and storm surge from even the strongest hurricanes as well as protecting city staff so it can maintain government operations during a disaster.   Hurricane Irma in 2017 made the need apparent.

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The new station which will span 22,366 square feet and come with a $12.5 million price tag has been a top legislative priority for the Marco Island City Council over the last four years.

“I’m excited for the city to have a fortified, resilient structure to maintain government operations through any disaster-type impacts,” Byrne said. “It puts us in a facility that is safe and allows us to immediately deploy city resources to the community in those instances and not have to relocate staff off the island.”

Before the original building was opened in 1992, former fire Chief Charles McDonald identified what he believed to be the perfect, centrally located spot for the station at 1280 San Marco Road.

The City of Marco Island will celebrate the groundbreaking for its new Fire Rescue Station 50 on Tuesday. The approximately $12 million project is expected to be completed in 16 months.

The building also served as the city’s first City Hall and at one point housed its police department in addition to being its emergency operations center during storms.

Council decides on new station able to withstand Category 5 hurricane

However, over almost 30 years the building faced climate control issues, water leaks that led to mold problems and a termite infestation that couldn’t be treated. Built to a flood plain level of 1992 standards, crew evacuated the station during Irma as the living quarters almost flooded.

Council looked at options for a remodel but ultimately decided a new station that could withstand a Category 5 hurricane and allow city staff to stay on the island in a self-sufficient facility was the best option.

“Marco Island is a first-class city, and this will be a first-class fire station and emergency operations center,” council Chairman Jared Grifoni said. “Given the risks we are potentially subjected to as a barrier island, this facility will put the safety and security of our residents and employees first.”

The City of Marco Island will celebrate the groundbreaking for its new Fire Rescue Station 50 on Tuesday. The approximately $12 million project is expected to be completed in 16 months.

The project designed by BSSW Architects features sleeping quarters, bays for equipment, administrative offices and meeting rooms. It will be home to a fueling center, an IT department that will hold the city’s data center, a training tower and a community training center with a 40-person classroom.

Built to withstand 205-mph winds, the hurricane-hardened structure, which can safely house 60 people during a natural disaster, will have a flood plain level of 11 feet. That is two more feet than the Federal Emergency Management Agency requires.

City Manager Mike McNees cited the devastation created by Hurricane Ida that made landfall in Louisiana on Aug. 27 and reached as far as the Northeast this week as to why the elevation of the new station was so essential.

“A foot here and a foot there makes a big difference,” McNees said.

The City of Marco Island will celebrate the groundbreaking for its new Fire Rescue Station 50 on Tuesday. The approximately $12 million project is expected to be completed in 16 months.

The 6,000-gallon generator and fueling station will allow the operations center to maintain power and for city vehicles to fill tanks before and after storms. Before the city was solely reliant on the commercial gas stations.

Byrne said it’s all a part of creating an immediate response from first responders, public works and utility employees, water and waster water employees and damage assessment teams.

“The quicker we can get out on the street following an event, the better it is for the community’s recovery,” Byrne said.

Reducing costs helped counter higher construction costs

Challenges for the project have had to do with the inflation of construction costs throughout the country. McNees said the city “had to work pretty hard to keep it on the rails” by mitigating costs as much as it could.

The city entered into a contract with construction manager at risk Manhattan Construction. The at-risk delivery method of the contract allows for a guaranteed maximum price of $12.5 million for the project with the chance to identify cost-saving methods, city fleet and facilities manager Miguel Carballo said.

It will be paid for with an $8 million bond, $3.3 million from the voter-approved Collier County 1-cent sales tax and a $1.28 FEMA Hazardous Mitigation Assistance Grant, Carballo said.

With the loan being paid back through the city’s capital improvement program, Grifoni stated residents will not see a tax increase for the project.

The City of Marco Island will celebrate the groundbreaking for its new Fire Rescue Station 50 on Tuesday. The approximately $12 million project is expected to be completed in 16 months.

McNees understands some will argue against debt from the project.

“I would say it doesn’t make any sense to make today’s taxpayers pay 100% of a building that’s going to serve for 40 or 50 years,” McNees said. “It’s only fair that it be spread out, so the future taxpayers make use of it as well. And, especially, in an environment where the interest rates are so low. Our interest cost on this project is coming in at under 2%. Turning down a 2% mortgage and making today’s taxpayers foot the whole bill wouldn’t be really fair to them.”

McNees said having a hurricane-hardened structure centrally on the island with city employees providing an immediate response will make all the difference to residents during a disaster.

“I hope it never affects their lives, frankly,” McNees said. “But it’s there that if we need that capability, if we have to respond to an emergency, then it’s hypercritical to their lives. So, the stronger our capabilities are in those circumstances the better off they’ll all be.”

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