Treatment for shock might have been appropriate Tuesday, when the Ocean City Council learned that the cost of its plan to build a new fire station at 65th Street would be more than twice the amount forecast.
What had been expected to cost the city $5.5 million five months ago, has since jumped to $12.7 million, leaving the mayor and City Council short of breath and looking for answers.
Appearing before the council at its Tuesday work session, City Engineer Terry McGean and Ocean City Fire Chief Richard Bowers presented their plans to relocate Fire Station 3 from 74th Street, where it was built in 1969, to a new facility on 65th.
Over the years, the functionality of the facility has become “obsolete,” according to Bowers, and it has outlived its service life. It was last updated and enlarged in 1986.
“The time has come to build a new Fire Station 3,” he told the council.
The plan is to move the new fire station to the front parking lot of the Public Safety Building at 65th Street. When the project was proposed in April, Bowers and McGean planned to have the fire trucks exit the property onto 65th Street, but after meeting with the State Highway Department, Bowers said, the state embraced the idea of having the trucks exit onto Coastal Highway, while also giving the department the ability to control the traffic lights at 65th and 67th Street.
The ingress and egress of the property, Bowers added, will help improve response times.
The station’s current design includes four drive-through bays, two tiers of decontamination areas, plenty of storage for fire, EMS, and dive team equipment, 15 bunks for duty crew members, five live-in dormitories with Jack and Jill restrooms, five flexible spaces that can be used for offices, bunks, or live-in spaces, a training room, conference room and gym.
“[We] need to build for now and the future,” Bowers said. “That training room is critical to our operation.”
Bowers explained that having the training room at the new facility will make it easier for crew members in the north and south to meet in the middle, in a more centralized location.
McGean said the total cost of the project is $12.7 million, which includes things like $2 million directly related to strengthen it against storms and public safety requirements, $470,000 for furniture, fixtures, and equipment, and $480,000 for the design.
The volunteer fire department, which owns the 75th Station, agreed to put the proceeds from its sale toward the new facility. That should pull in about $1.5 million, according to estimates, lowering the cost of the new fire station to $11.2 million.
Several council members, including Council President Matt James, wondered about the price jump of more than $7 million. McGean replied that the new price reflected the building’s increase in size.
The new fire station will be two and a half times larger than Fire Station 4 at 130th Street, according to McGean.
When Councilman Peter Buas asked why the new facility could not just be a replica of the one at 130th Street, Bowers said training and some administration operations — currently headquartered at the 15 Street station — could be moved to the new location, and that would require more space.
Mayor Rick Meehan said it was clear that the scope of the project has changed, but he too questioned the need for such an expensive upgrade, offering suggestions like shelling out the second floor instead of building it all at once to bring the cost down.
He recommended that McGean and the chief take a second look at the plans and come back with an estimate of what he thought could be done, while not taking away from today’s needs.
Councilman Mark Paddack said he has worked on a project at the foot of the Route 50 bridge over the past three months, and several times, he watched ambulances and fire trucks head to West Ocean City only to be called off and sent back to the resort within minutes.
Seeing the demand for calls in West Ocean City and the southern district, Paddack suggested the possibility of doing more enhancements to the 15th Street headquarters station, rather than put so much money into a facility at 65th Street.
Even with the calls to West Ocean City and downtown Ocean City, Bowers said Station 3 is the busiest.
“It’s a big difference — 5.5 to 12.5,” Paddack said. “If 12.5 million is the number, then so be it. That’s what we’re going to have to deal with. We were originally told 5.5.”
Ultimately, the council agreed to have McGean and Bowers come back in a few weeks with plans for a less expensive project.
While the $11.2 million was approved when the council voted on going to bond for FY22, any difference in cost for the fire station will go toward the Baltimore Avenue project of undergrounding utilities.