By Donald Wittkowski
Ocean City officials unveiled designs Wednesday for a new firehouse at 29th Street that will replace an antiquated and storm-battered station dating to the early 1950s.
Construction on the estimated $1.6 million complex is expected to begin in September and be completed by May. Construction contracts are scheduled to be awarded by the city over the summer, according to William McLees, the project’s architect.
McLees redesigned the building to shave hundreds of thousands of dollars off the price tag after the original construction bids came in at more than $2 million, well over budget.
Originally, the existing firehouse was going to be incorporated into the new project, but the old building will be demolished instead to save money and provide a clean slate for construction of its two-story replacement.
McLees described the new design as “pretty austere,” but noted that the modern firehouse will still be a dramatic improvement over the existing station and its stark cinder block construction.
“Gray cinder block, that’s what it is now. Aged cinder block,” McLees said.
McLees, joined by Fire Chief Chris Breunig and City Solicitor Dorothy McCrosson, gave the first public view of the redesigned project during the Ocean City Planning Board meeting Wednesday night.
Board members did not comment on the project following a seven-minute presentation by McLees, but indicated they will send a letter to City Council giving their formal endorsement for the new design.
Breunig emphasized that the new firehouse will be built to withstand the New Jersey shore’s notorious coastal storms, including a 500-year flood.
“Experience has proved over the years that Mother Nature can be a bear,” Breunig said.
Flooding caused by Hurricane Sandy pummeled the existing firehouse in 2012. The building was swamped again by tidal flooding in January during the powerful coastal storm Jonas.
The old building, which dates to 1954, was condemned by the city engineer and the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration in April after large cracks were found in the walls.
The city had originally planned to close the station on April 15, but the walls were strengthened to keep it open through the summer tourism season, thus avoiding disruptions to the Fire Department during the busiest time of year, city spokesman Doug Bergen said.
Breunig noted that Ocean City’s summer population swells to around 150,000. He said the Fire Department had been worried that the building’s closure over the summer would have cut down on the response time for fires and other emergencies when the city is so crowded.
Firefighters, however, have been grumbling for years about the deteriorated condition of the old station at 29th Street and West Avenue.
Living quarters at the station were ruined by Hurricane Sandy’s flooding, forcing firefighters to move into a temporary trailer nearby. They have repeatedly complained that the trailer has been infested with mold and rodents.
Fire equipment has remained in the old station, even though the firefighters shifted their living quarters into a temporary trailer.
The new 5,000-square-foot complex will include living space for the firefighters, as well as room for the fire trucks and other equipment.
Breunig said the new project has taken longer than expected, but represents a significant upgrade in the department’s ability to fight fires and respond to the demands of a growing city.
“We all fought for a good cause here,” he said.
The city still must find a location for a temporary firehouse after the old building is demolished in September and construction is underway on the new station.