Florida Keys News - Key West Citizen
Wednesday, January 2, 2013
Fire station more than a safety facility -- it's a community park

The Key West Fire Department Station No.2 has a nickname among firefighters on the island.

Having aged poorly since its creation in 1962, and with its windows boarded up, the Old Town station has for years been dubbed "the dungeon," according to former chief turned City Commissioner Billy Wardlow.

"It was a punishment station," said Wardlow, who put in 30 years as a firefighter before retiring as the chief. "When you misbehaved at work, that's where they sent you. They called it the 'dungeon.'"

Wardlow swears it's no joke.

"It's very dark and gloomy," he said Monday, adding the nickname has been around since the late 1980s.

Since he first ran for the Commission in 2009, Wardlow has been working on delivering a new station for the island, and the project remains in progress with the final plans due for completion Feb. 4.

Originally estimated as a $4 million project, it has grown closer to $6 million.

Craig said his staff is working on reducing the cost to around $5 million by "value engineering," a term for substituting materials and making other changes in order to trim the budget.

In addition to what Wardlow promises is a modern-day, first class fire station, with three bays, the project includes a 70-spot parking lot, public restrooms and a park -- complete with a fountain.

"We're improving the drainage; we're doing the landscaping and the streetscape," said City Planner Don Craig on Monday. "It's more than just a single fire station on a lot."

Also, the lot at 525 Angela St. will have a type of drop-off spot similar to a hotel's, something that planners call a "transportation hub," designed for taxis and others looking for a destination point in Old Town.

"You'd say, 'Take me to fire station No.2,' or, 'that lot off Duval,'" said Craig.

Key West has its largest fire station off North Roosevelt Boulevard, known as "central," and a third standalone station at the corner of Flagler and Kennedy Drive.

The fire station project was given final approval in February, by a unanimous City Commission, but it has had to compete for attention with a host of city building projects, namely the new City Hall that will come out of a renovated Glynn Archer Elementary school building.

Once the construction plans are finished in February, the planning department can begin the bidding process, Craig said.

Key West joins the county in replenishing fire stations, a trend that began in 2009 when the $3.2 million Big Pine Key station was completed.

In October, county officials broke ground on the new $3.5 million Stock Island Fire Station 8 on the four lots surrounding the current station at the corner of MacDonald and Maloney avenues.

Also, a $1.84 million renovation of the station on Conch Key is expected for completion by the end of February.

That's when the city may begin demolition of the old Angela Street station.

Wardlow's "dungeon" nickname still resonates among firefighters, who work 24 hour shifts.

"No, he's not making it up," said Fire Chief David Fraga, a 40-year veteran of the department who has been chief for over six years.

"It wasn't the most popular place to work." Fraga said his charges are excited, yet patient, about the coming fire station that will replace the unpopular Angela Street building.

"They know it's coming," Fraga said. "They've been very patient in waiting for it. The quarter they're living in now. Words can't describe."

The city estimates that the Old Town fire station project will take about 18 months to finish.

"Hopefully we can break ground in the spring," said Wardlow. "It's something dear to my heart. It's long overdue and I'd love to get it started and get it done so the firefighters have a place to live. A third of your life is spent at that fire house. You spend more time with firefighters than you do with your family."

gfilosa@keysnews.com

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