Fire Service gets $1.3 million to finish building one station, relocating another


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ST. THOMAS - The Department of the Interior has awarded the V.I. Fire Service almost $1.3 million to help fund the relocation of the Fort Christian Fire Station and finish construction of the Dorothea Fire Station.

The first grant - $1 million - will be used to relocate the Fire Service's Hotel Company station in downtown Charlotte Amalie to a location near the former Warren E. Brown housing community in Estate Taarneberg.

The second grant - $245,047.92 - will help fund completion of major renovations and reconstruction to the Dorothea Fire Station on St. Thomas' northside.

"The Hotel Company station needs to be moved to a better building at a better location, and the Dorothea Station, which is in the process of being rebuilt, needs a tremendous amount of work to get the project completed. These grants will help both projects come to fruition, allowing the Fire Service to better protect the safety and wellbeing of the people of St. Thomas," Gov. John deJongh Jr. said in a written statement Tuesday.

Fort Christian Fire Station

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

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 said.

The fire trucks cannot fit in the bays and must be parked outside, exposed to the elements, according to a Government House news release.

"The key thing is that it will assist us in replacing our downtown station that has compromised response time, due to the traffic," V.I. Fire Service Director Steve Brow said.

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.

Last year, Jaredian Design Group developed architectural drawings, and in June the Fire Service applied for building permits, George said.

"Right now, we're in the process of getting an agreement with the Department of Public Works and Federal Highway to put this project out to bid," George said.

Once a contractor has been selected, the project will take about a year and a half to build, he said.

The new station will include 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 Fire Service hopes to break ground on the project in January, according to George.

The total project cost is about $4.7 million, Brow said.

The Federal Highway Administration is funding 78 percent of the project, and the V.I. government is expected to provide the remaining 22 percent match.

George said the Federal Highway Administration has given about $3 million for the relocation project. The required local match was about $1.6 million, George said.

In the Fiscal Year 2013 budget approved by the Senate last week, $650,000 is earmarked as a contribution to the local match. The budget is awaiting action by the governor.

The $1 million in Interior funding will make up the rest of the local match and allow the project to move ahead, George said.

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

"It's also going to be our administrative office," he said. "This was a strategic plan to cut costs in rent and also make everything a one-stop shop."

Dorothea Fire Station

Interior awarded the Fire Service $245,047.92 to help finish the Dorothea Fire Station project.

The station has been in various stages of renovation since 1995, when the government first tried to open a station to serve St. Thomas' north side.

With community donations, a small, house-like structure was built in 1995 and served as the Echo Station. Trucks parked on the street and bare concrete and rebar stood where the garage should be.

Hurricane Marilyn halted any further construction, and nothing was done with the property for the next 14 years.

The station was closed in the summer of 2003 because of funding and staffing shortages. It reopened in 2004 to be manned by four firefighters 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The station closed again for a number of weeks in 2006 because a fire truck broke down and because of a rat infestation.

The project to finish the station got under way in May 2009.

Less than a year later, the renovation was stopped, and the station was closed for a full-scale demolition and reconstruction. Fire Service officials said at the time that the building was structurally flawed and needed to be scrapped and built new from the ground up.

About $822,000 was earmarked for the renovation project in a capital projects bond issue in 2009. The Fire Service also received $500,000 in reprogrammed funds for buildings and improvements in Fiscal Year 2009, which was put toward the Dorothea project.

The project hit another snag in 2011, when the contractor was not meeting deadlines for the project, George said. The project was put back out to bid, and Custom Builders was awarded the new contract to finish the station's construction.

"They're doing a great job. They're moving really fast," George said.

Work resumed in July and should be finished in November, Brow said.

George said the Interior grant will allow them to finish the inside of the new station and pay for communications equipment, furniture, bedding and remaining interior construction, including a lobby and public restrooms.

The station will have living quarters, a kitchen, a dining room and a study area.

The new building also will have a 52,000-gallon cistern that can fill up fire trucks.

In 2011, the Senate passed legislation to name the fire station the "Emile Berry Fire Station and Multipurpose Center."

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

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