Ocean City Today

Council delays decision on fire house work until autumn

City has two choices: repair old building or replace it entirely with better facility
By Katie Tabeling | Jul 13, 2017

(July 14, 2017) The decision whether to renovate or replace the 74th Street fire house won’t be decided this summer, as the issue is now on the agenda for city government’s strategic planning session this fall.

The City Council agreed to put off further discussion until then after concluding during Tuesday’s session that too many unanswered questions remained to proceed in either direction.

Although a council majority in March voted to abandon plans to spend $30,000 to design a new Fire Station 3, City Engineer Terry McGean on Tuesday suggested resuming that effort in addition to installing a new ventilation system as one of the options left on the table. That new system could cost around $55,000, including installing a ventilation system that would directly pump out exhaust from the fire engines inside.

The alternative would be spending $275,000 to repair the standing building. That would cover repairs such as a crack in the fire engine bay and major building code problems. Fire Station 3 is not handicapped accessible, does not have co-ed bathrooms or showers and would require a decontamination room.

Fixing those problems could result in the loss of the south bay or tearing out the living space and rebuilding it as a two-story space.

“The need for the replacement building was to address functional problems and to allow growth. This report doesn’t address future functions or additional equipment needed,” McGean said. “If you abandon Station 3 where it stands, it doesn’t make sense to spend that amount of money.”

Councilman Wayne Hartman, who was a proponent behind the 4-3 vote to reject the design bids, was surprised to see the resumption of the replacement design plans included as one of McGean’s suggestions.

“When we discussed this, there were so many issues brought up,” he said. “We talked about whether bunk space would not be as important, since the shift schedule if moving from 24-hours to 10- and 14-hour shifts, we talked about the ventilation issues. There’s between three to six personnel working there. But the bottom line is that we asked for what work needs to be done if we’re looking at this station for five to 10 years.”

“To be frank, I was confused by council’s motion. Was I supposed to spend $30,000 just to spend it? I don’t think that was the intent,” McGean said. “I didn’t think it would be to immediately start the design … it takes three years to start construction. If the council wants to keep this for a few years, then it’ll cost $55,000. If you don’t want to do that, then you need to look at extensive repairs.”

Hartman felt that McGean did not carry out orders from the council when compiling the Fire Station 3 report.

“We don’t even know what we would be designing,” he said. “If the needs are up to $275,000 that would put us up to par with others and we could have it for 10 years. I was hoping to see a report on what we could do to see to make this safe.”

City Manager Doug Miller pointed out the motion made during the March 28 session was to present alternatives to the repair the 74th Street station. Council President Lloyd Martin thanked McGean for expressing his honest opinion, and said it was crucial to the City Council’s action.

“When we ask for your recommendation, you ought to give us your honest recommendation. We need an honest opinion from someone that lives this life every day, not what we want to hear. I don’t know what you want to see,” Martin said, directing that last comment to Hartman.

Fire Chief Chris Larmore said there were no immediate concerns with Fire Station 3 that were not shared with McGean. He added that halting the replacement design plans had thrown a wrench in the fire department’s planning efforts.

“We have not made any budget requests to address issues there because we understood the intent was to replace that building. It’s caused us to take a breath and examine all our projects,” Larmore said. “I can’t say that it’ll fall down in the next few years or you won’t have future litigation. But our call volume is consistently going up, and the functionality is not going to improve there over the next few years.”

At this point, Councilman Dennis Dare said his bottom line was that the city needed to start planning for whatever course of action it would take with Fire Station 3.

“Some questions about what to build we can’t answer. That’s what the $30,000 was for,” Dare said to Hartman. “The city engineer, who has built half the town, has tried to answer your questions in different ways. But it all comes down to it [the building] being functionally obsolete, with [smaller] doors and the ventilation and room for apparatuses.”

The council unanimously voted to table discussion on the 74th Street fire station until the strategic planning session, which is tentatively set for September.

Mayor Rick Meehan said that the Ocean City Volunteer Fire Company also should have a say in the discussion, as Fire Station 3 houses live-in volunteers during the summer.

“When we decided to renovate fire headquarters [on 15th Street], part of that decision was made with replacing Station 3 in mind, and our volunteers and personnel bought into that,” he said.

“That building is owned by the volunteers, and they made decisions based on future decisions back then. It’s an ongoing discussion, and we need to bring in the chiefs and the volunteer chiefs in that discussion.”

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