DUNEDIN — Two studies confirm it: If the big, bad hurricane were to huff and puff, it would blow the fire station down.
Firefighters have been dogged with the threat of evacuation from station No. 61 during storms since assessments in 2000 and 2009 found the station in northwest Dunedin likely wouldn't withstand winds greater than 45 mph. (The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration classifies a thunderstorm with winds of 40 mph or higher as "approaching severe.")
Now, city officials, who are in the preliminary stages of planning next year's budget, are bringing in a consultant to look for ways to replace the 40-year-old building.
Officials say the May 13 meeting with the consultant won't cost the city anything. A consultant with Bergmann Associates, a Jacksonville-based architecture, engineering and planning firm, will pitch the company's services and — Dunedin hopes —offer a low-cost solution.
"It's very exploratory," City Manager Rob DiSpirito said.
"The biggest obstacle has been finding a funding source," he said. "The consultant will help decipher cost based on needs expressed. Then we can say from that, how much do we have to find, and from there put a plan together to bring back to the commission."
The oldest of the city's three fire stations has been targeted for replacement since at least 2000.
That's when a city assessment determined the 4,679-square-foot station, on Ed Eckert Drive off Michigan Boulevard, was functionally obsolete.
A followup analysis repeated findings that "this building would not survive a hurricane." Fire Chief Bud Meyer said firefighters came close to evacuating during Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne in 2004, but those storms turned away at the last moment.
Besides structural concerns, the reports say the station is not ideally located and has inadequate storage. For example:
• Station No. 61 can only hold up to four crew members and one truck. The city's other stations can hold two four-person units and two fire trucks.
• It's in an area prone to flooding.
• The building sits at a "blind intersection" with limited visibility east and west. Access to Michigan Boulevard is sometimes blocked by traffic parked for special events at Highlander Park.
• Unlike the city's other two stations, built in 1977 and 1994, station No. 61 doesn't have a lightning protection system or fire sprinkler system.
The station has been renovated over the years. Its living quarters were remodeled in 1988 and 1997, a new roof was added in 1999, and new air-conditioning equipment was installed in 1994 and 1997.
The 2000 assessment said the renovations had extended the building's useful life "for a few additional years." But the improvements failed to address the "functional obsolescence and site limitations" that prompted the recommendation for replacement and relocation.
Meyer hopes to move the station 300 yards north to Michigan Boulevard, where it would continue to serve northwest Dunedin residents for at least another 40 years.
He said a larger station would mean more space for reinforcements during storms. Fire equipment could be stored there, too.
"We service the community on a 24/7 basis and having something we can stay in during the storm would be important because once the storm passes, we can get right back into the community and start helping people," Meyer said. "And the fact that we live there for 24 hours at a time, it's our home away from home."
The report recommends building a larger, hurricane-hardened station. The 2009 report estimated a 7,000-square-foot building would cost between $1.7 million and $2.1 million.
But Dunedin officials hope the consultant can find a way to build it for less.
A sluggish economy has meant less sales tax revenue, which translates into about a third less than the $4 million the city initially received every year in Penny for Pinellas revenue, DiSpirito said. The city is already using some of that money to pay off about $800,000 a year in loans on the Dunedin Community Center, which opened in 2007.
In addition to the fire station, at least six other city buildings have been targeted for replacement or major renovation. DiSpirito said a separate study named several city pools as obsolete. Officials said they've been applying for grants and seeking financial partnerships with various civic organizations and nonprofit groups.
"It always comes down to priority, too," DiSpirito said, adding that other projects, like road and stormwater drainage repair, have taken precedence lately.
"If any of them (the projects recommended by the facility assessment) appear on a plan, it's going to be because of a shifting of priorities — taking something off the list so you can put something else on the list, unless some other revenue materializes," DiSpirito said.
"But that's a policy decision for the commission, and they need to look at what they want to do the most."
Keyonna Summers can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4153.