SEMINOLE — The fire administration building is a pile of rubble, a victim of Amendment 1, Seminole officials say.
The structure, built in 1992, cost about $85,000 a year for upkeep, Seminole fire Chief Dan Graves said. A breakdown of the costs for maintaining the 10,605-square-foot building was not available Tuesday.
"There were seven people bouncing around in that big building, and it was expensive to run," Graves said Monday. "The cheapest thing for the taxpayers was to knock that dang thing down."
The land will not remain vacant. Instead, Seminole officials plan to build a permanent emergency operations center that can withstand at least the low end of a Category 5 hurricane, which has winds upward of 155 mph.
Seminole Mayor Jimmy Johnson said Tuesday he does not think taxpayers will be up in arms over the loss of a 16-year-old building.
"I haven't heard anyone say anything about this situation at all," Johnson said. "I think the city manager certainly gave it some thought before the removal of the building. I guess it served its purpose … so (it) was no longer needed."
Johnson added that no apparent public outcry "could be a lack of awareness. … But it has served its usefulness. That is why it is being demolished. … I think it was a pretty tough decision to make, but the council and the city manager did make the decision, so down it goes."
Graves and the other six employees in the Fire Department's administrative offices have moved into City Hall, 9199 113th St. N. The costs at City Hall are only a fraction of what they were in the old building.
The decision to move fire administration into City Hall and to raze the building at 11195 70th Ave. N came earlier this year when city officials studied the effects of Amendment 1, which reduced the taxable value of properties and capped property tax increases. Seminole's Fire Department covers a chunk of unincorporated Pinellas County, which must pay the city for covering the area. The county is restricted to using property taxes to fund its part of the Seminole fire service.
But with the constraints of Amendment 1, the county had to cut back and had no way to replace the lost funds. This loss contributed to making Seminole's Fire Department the hardest hit of all Seminole city departments. Four employees were laid off, and positions were eliminated.
And, as city officials looked elsewhere to reduce costs, vacating the fire administration building seemed a good way to cut recurring costs, Seminole City Manager Frank Edmunds said.
The expense of maintenance, electrical bills and other expenditures cost the city about $85,000 a year. Not only was the building's upkeep a determining factor, Edmunds said, but a structural engineer had determined that it was not "severe-weather worthy."
The fire chief said the building was Styrofoam and thin steel, with a coating of stucco.
"It was very telling when the backhoe hit that thing this morning and it just fell down," Graves said.
Edmunds said the city decided to take advantage of the situation by building a permanent emergency operations center on the site. The EOC will be built in conjunction with a Public Works administration facility across the street using Penny for Pinellas money. Both will be built to withstand at least a low-level Category 5 hurricane, which is the new standard for city buildings.
It was impossible, Edmunds said, to fortify the fire administration building so that it would withstand a low Category 5 wind load.
It is unclear how much the Public Works building and the EOC will cost, Edmunds said. The two are being designed now and, if all goes well, construction could begin within a year and be completed during 2010.