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Clearwater balks on fire station plan, delays vote

CLEARWATER — City leaders are balking at building a new $7 million downtown fire station and emergency operations center until they're sure that the Fire & Rescue Department has taken a good look at all the possible locations for it.

As it stands now, fire officials are leaning toward replacing Fire Station 45 by demolishing it and putting a new station at the same spot, at Franklin Street and Garden Avenue.

But instead of voting to do that, the City Council decided Monday to postpone the vote until November. They want the Fire Department to consider other locations — particularly a vacant lot that the city owns on Court Street midway between Missouri and Martin Luther King Jr. avenues.

Clearwater officials have discussed moving the downtown fire station to the southeast and merging it with the city's Lake­view fire station, which also will be replaced within the next decade. But if they keep the downtown station in the same place, the merger wouldn't be an option.

"I'm not really crazy about this site," Mayor Frank Hibbard said at Monday's work session.

Why replace the downtown fire station at all?

The city says Fire Station 45 was built in 1974 and is outdated, that it "no longer meets the challenges of a contemporary fire station, including space needs, code requirements, security concerns and sustainability."

Money to build the $7 million replacement station would come from Penny for Pinellas sales taxes. Clearwater has already used the penny tax to upgrade four of its eight fire stations. After the downtown station is replaced, the final three stations are to be renovated by 2020.

The Fire Department's plan is to replace the current 20,000-square-foot downtown station with a 30,000-square-foot, three-story building constructed to withstand a Category 5 hurricane. It would be built by 2012.

"How much space do we need in the Fire Department?" asked City Council member Bill Jonson, noting that Clearwater has been expanding fire rescue facilities.

Deputy Fire Chief Robert Weiss said more fire rescue personnel would be moving from other locations into the new downtown station, and that the department needs more space to store things like decontamination gear.

The new station also would have room on the third floor to house the city's new Emergency Operations Center. Some council members aren't entirely convinced of the need for that.

Now Clearwater's EOC is in the main police station, but that's not designed to withstand Category 5 winds.

In case of a major hurricane, there's a backup EOC that can withstand Category 5 winds at Clearwater's fire rescue training center on N Belcher Road.

"Why do we need two EOCs?" the mayor asked.

Weiss said the training facility only houses a small, makeshift emergency center. "Technologically, it is not wired for an EOC," he said.

As far as where else to put a downtown fire station, the Fire Department has looked at other potential locations, including a site at Druid Street and Missouri Avenue; the St. Petersburg Times building at Court Street and Myrtle Avenue; and lots on Drew Street and on Vine Street.

"We struck out on every one of them," Fire Chief Jamie Geer told the City Council.

Mike Brassfield can be reached at brassfield@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4160.

Clearwater balks on fire station plan, delays vote 10/19/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 19, 2010 8:38pm]
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