COCOA BEACH, Fla. - Images of storm surge flooding from hurricanes Katrina and Sandy prodded Fire Chief Ryan Duckworth to prepare for the day his coastal community would be in the crosshairs of disaster.
He is certain a hurricane with a storm surge of 10 feet or more would swamp downtown, including the city's single-story fire station that dates back to the 1950s.
For more than a decade, Cocoa Beach has considered building a new fire station and department headquarters. Duckworth wants a three-story structure that can stand up to a hurricane and serve as an operations center for rescue and recovery, according to Local 6 news partner Florida Today.
"What we are looking to do is have a building that is hardened that can handle up to 160-mph winds to survive a hurricane so we can get everything up and running faster," Duckworth said. "The building most likely will survive a direct hit."
The station's second and third floors would become the city's operations center where emergency officials would coordinate efforts after a storm surge, which could flood the first floor. City vehicles would be sent to higher ground to ride out the storm.
In addition to being an emergency operations center, the building also would serve as a public-service base for insurance company representatives and recovery organizations.
In 2010, officials balked at plans to construct a new fire station, police station and administration facility that was estimated to cost between $8.8 million and $13.3 million.
In September, then-Vice Mayor Dave Netterstrom proposed spending up to $3 million for a new fire station.
Winter Park-based Architects Design Group, which specializes in public safety buildings, developed the architectural design to meet the structural requirements, and Altamonte Springs-based BHM Architecture added five exterior styles.
About 200 residents narrowed the designs down to two favorites at a public meeting this month: Key West and mid-century modern.
The city will seek contract bids for the two designs and determine how to pay for the station after they select a winning bid.
Some residents complained at a recent commission meeting that the process was moving too fast. They also felt more public input was needed before the final design is selected.
"These are the two most popular designs," said Netterstrom, now the city's mayor. "We do need to get cost information for us to make a decision and that is the next step in the process. Before we do make a final decision, the citizens, residents and constituents will have a very good opportunity to voice there opinions on it."
Vice Mayor Ben Malik commented that waiting longer might add more costs to the project.
"The construction sector is heating up. The longer we wait, the more this thing is going to cost us," Malik said. "We've waited 10 years too long because we could have done it for a lot cheaper back then."
Commission members supported allowing the fire station to go above the city's 45-foot building-height limit up to 60 feet for a tower attached to the structure for firefighter training.
The design will be similar to fire departments in Winter Park, Sanford and Altamonte Springs that have training towers at their headquarters.
"So we can basically do ladder and truck-company operations training, high-angle and rope rescues and high-rise firefighting training," Duckworth said. "By doing this, we won't have to go to Cape Canaveral and take our trucks out of the city to go train on their tower; we will have something right here."
Duckworth hopes the building will serve as a reminder to residents that they will not be alone when disaster strikes.
"It will be peace of mind knowing there will be people here right after the storm to get the recovery process started."
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