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Cost of Lealman fire station is on the rise

(ran Beach, West, South editions)

Originally discussed at $1-million, county fire officials are now recommending a $2.2-million budget.

Pinellas fire officials have recommended the county spend $2.2-million _ double the original cost _ to build a new fire station in the Lealman Fire District.

The County Commission is scheduled to begin a series of workshops March 26 to prioritize its remaining capital improvement projects for the next several years. Funding for the fire station is no sure thing as the county has cut back several Penny for Pinellas projects because of escalating costs.

Last year, county officials discussed spending $1-million to build a new Lealman fire station. Largely because of new and stricter building code, a new firehouse, including space for administrative offices, will cost between $1.8-million and $2.2-million, according to Lealman Fire Chief Richard Graham.

"I put in $2.2-million for Station 18 and it is still on the list," said Dwaine Booth, deputy director of the county's EMS and fire services administration. If the new station is approved, the county would lease a portion of Lealman Park on 54th Avenue to the fire district in exchange for maintaining the entire park.

If a significantly lesser amount is approved, the administrative offices would have to remain at the existing station.

In either case, the Lealman board would have to decide what to do with unused space at the existing station at 4017 56th Ave. N.

One possibility is a long-discussed community center for Lealman area residents. Originally, the Lealman Park fire station site was to include a small building for community events. That plan has been abandoned, however, and is not included in the funding proposed to the County Commission.

Mike Quinlivan, executive director of the Lealman Family Center, told the fire district's board of directors Monday that his organization is not interested in the Lealman Park site. Instead, his organization wants to refurbish and use the existing station as a community outreach center.

The Lealman directors liked the idea but were uncertain how they could turn over the building to the family center.

Booth said the building and property were purchased with fire district taxes and are dedicated "by law" for fire protection-related uses. The proposed use as a family center would require the fire district to sell the existing fire station "at fair market value" either to the family center or the county, he said.

Quinlivan said his organization does not have the money to buy the building but expects the county to fund a building purchase.

"We are exploding in our little center and need a much larger building in this area," Quinlivan told the board.

The Family Center, operationally funded by the Juvenile Welfare Board, was formed last year and is presently located at 4070 58th Ave. N. The center offers family counseling, a food program, parenting classes, a youth summer camp, and sponsors a number of community activities and events.

The center is planning to expand its staff and is planning new projects, including a middle school teen club, a computer lab, after-school tutoring, arts and crafts, employment counseling, and GED classes.

Campbell called the Family Center proposal for the existing station an "awesome" opportunity for the Lealman community. "The Lealman community has never received anything from Penny for Pinellas. It needs to come down the pike this year."