$8.5 million facility to replace the Fort Christian fire station

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ST. THOMAS - V.I. Fire Service has recently awarded an $8 million contract to build a state-of-the-art fire station on St. Thomas.

The new station will be located in Estate Taarneberg next to the former Warren E. Brown housing community. It will replace the existing station in Fort Christian as the home for the Fire Service's Hotel Company. The department's administrative offices will also be housed in the new facility.

The relocation project has been in the works since 2008, according to Assistant Fire Service Director Daryl George.

The department's Hotel Company station - on Tolbod Gade at Fort Christian, across from Vendors Plaza - is in the heart of downtown. Traffic consistently is lined up along the roadway in front of the station, and tourists flood the area when cruise ships are in port. Events such as Carnival and other activities that take place in Emancipation Garden create congestion that often blocks the access to and from the station, Fire officials have said.

The fire trucks cannot fit in the bays and must be parked outside, exposed to the elements.

In 2009, the department purchased 2.5 acres of the former Warren E. Brown housing community property along Lover's Lane, across from Barbel Plaza.

Brow said the property was bought from the V.I. Housing Authority by the Federal Highway Division for about $300,000.

Jaredian Design Group developed architectural drawings in 2012 and now all permits are in place, George said.

Last month, the project went out to bid and AT Construction was awarded the $8,557,335 contract, according to George.

The project is funded from a number of federal and local sources. About 72 percent of the project is funded with Federal Highway money, the Department of Interior gave $1 million, and a $650,000 local appropriation was made in the last budget cycle. The final $2 million needed to complete the project will come from the V.I. government as the required local match to the federal funding.

George said the details are still being worked out.

The new station will include male and female sleeping quarters, a gym, a conference and training room, a communications and security room, a kitchen and dining area, a breathing apparatus cleaning and repair station, a mechanic shop and new safety gear and equipment.

The building will have a video link available, so firefighters can participate in training using stateside instructors and communicate with St. Croix.

The Fire Service will soon be merging with the territory's Emergency Medical Service, currently operated by the V.I. Health Department. George said the new facility will be able to incorporate the EMS division and house ambulances when the transition takes place.

The new station will be a two-story, 17,918-square-foot building, with large garage bays to house the fire trucks. George said five to six trucks can be housed in the new building.

The way the facility is designed, the fire trucks will drive in one entrance along Polyberg Hill, park in the bay, and drive out the other side and exit onto Lover's Lane.

"No backing up," George said. "You can go straight through."

With the addition of the administrative offices, the Fire Service will reduce the rent it pays for office space now and make the building more community oriented.

"The plan was to make this a one-stop facility," George said.

"I think it's going to be a big plus for the people of the Virgin Islands," he said.

George said construction should begin in the next 60 to 90 days, maybe sooner, and once started it will take about a year and a half to complete.

- Contact reporter Aldeth Lewin at 714-9111 or email alewin@dailynews.vi.

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