OCALA, Fla. – The nearly $7 million project was funded through the Marion County penny sales tax and is something first responders say was built around the community.
“This community needs more help with employment, crime, and transportation than any other part of Ocala so we were not just going to build a brick building with closed windows and barbed wired fence,” said Ocala Fire Chief Shane Alexander.
The MLK First Responder Campus houses the Fire Rescue Headquarters with a new fire station, police substation, and community center. The campus is open to the public with a basketball court, meeting and event spaces, and a fire museum.
Some community members said the open concept encourages residents to interact with first responders.
“It also allows you to meet the men and women who serve and let you see that behind the badge, not everyone is what you think. They have big hearts and want to help the community,” said Lloyd Rawls, Jr.
Rawls lives in West Ocala. He’s 40 years old and left his corporate job with plans to become a firefighter. He’s part of a mentorship program with Ocala Fire Rescue.
“I want to be a firefighter because I want to save someone and give back to the city,” said Rawls.
He’s gearing up for fire school and said he’s looking forward to working in one of the brand new facilities in Marion County.
“I want to be on that fire truck and part of a team,” Rawls said.
The Ocala Fire Chief said building the new fire station in West Ocala will improve response times.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held Thursday at the new campus. The newly appointed Ocala police chief Mike Balken was set to speak at the event, but couldn’t attend because he was sick, according to a police spokesperson.