After 17 years of administrative and fiscal maneuvering, Old Town residents will finally be getting a new fire station at the corner of Angela and Simonton streets as city officials broke ground Friday for the new $5.9 million, two-story, three-bay station.
Firefighters call the existing, 1960s-era station, adjacent to the former City Hall complex, "the dungeon." The building has mold issues, a leaky roof, flaking paint and sandbags to keep rainwater out of doorways. Its replacement has long been a goal of City Commissioner and former Fire Chief Billy Wardlow.
"I'm hoping to have it done by next August by my 60th birthday," Wardlow said with a chuckle.
Workers with D.L. Porter Constructors of Sarasota will wait until after Fantasy Fest to demolish the old station, Wardlow said.
A 70-spot parking lot, public restrooms and a park with a fountain near the station are part of the plan that was given unanimous final approval in February by the City Commission. The fire station has had to compete with a host of other city building projects for attention and funding, namely the new City Hall that will come out of a renovated Glynn Archer Elementary School building.
Mayor Craig Cates noted the station will be built without new tax funding.
Fire Chief David Fraga told those in attendance at Friday's groundbreaking that firefighters see it not as a new building, but as a new home. But the loudest applause came when Wardlow told everyone that he will spend the first night in the new station alongside the firefighters.
More applause arose when Commissioner Tony Yaniz presented Wardlow with a much smaller, toyish-looking shovel while everyone else was given normal shovels.
"Just a little joke," Fraga said, laughing.
Wardlow said he will hang the shovel in the new building when it is complete.
Key West's largest fire station on North Roosevelt Boulevard is known as "central," and a third standalone station is at the corner of Flagler Avenue and Kennedy Drive.
Key West joins the county in replenishing its fire stations, a trend that began in 2009 when the $3.2 million Big Pine Key station was completed.
In October 2012, 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 was completed last month.