By Rich Pollack
Highland Beach will be going back to the drawing board as it plans for a new fire station.
At a Town Commission meeting in October, Manager Marshall Labadie discussed plans for a new 10,000-square-foot station that would be built between Town Hall and the water treatment plant.
At the Nov. 1 meeting, however, Labadie announced that a recent site inspection showed that the location would not work, at least not within the budget allotted for the project.
“We just ran into some really bad site conditions,” he said. “It would require much more work than we originally anticipated.”
Labadie said soil conditions and the location of certain utilities would make it difficult for the town to build the two-story station at the preferred location without spending much more than planned.
Another challenge, he said, would be the additional time it would take to prepare the site for a new building.
“We ran into some problems that are insurmountable within the parameters we have to work with,” he said.
Commissioners are hoping to build a station that would work within the $10 million overall start-up budget for the new department approved by voters in a referendum.
Labadie said the town is working with architects to come up with alternatives and will present some potential drawings at a special commission meeting on Friday, Nov. 4.
“We’re having to change direction quickly,” he said.
Labadie said that there is the possibility of finding a location on the town’s governmental property that could accommodate a two-story building, but said he is waiting to hear the thoughts of commissioners.
“A station that meets our needs can fit on the site,” he said. “We have to make sure everyone is on board.”
Labadie said he doesn’t anticipate soil and utility issues on alternative sites.
A new station, town leaders have said, is needed to accommodate the additional fire trucks and rescue vehicles that will come when Highland Beach takes over fire service from Delray Beach Fire Rescue.
The town currently has a fire station on State Road A1A, which is being staffed by Delray Beach until the contract ends in May 2024, but Labadie says that station is too old, too small and below the floodplain.
The town considered rebuilding a station on the same site, but determined that the cost of needing a temporary facility when construction was underway would be too much.
As they consider their next steps, town commissioners face other unexpected challenges, including a significant cost increase in building materials due to inflation and supply chain issues.
Initially, the town budgeted $5 million for the construction of a fire station, but Labadie said the cost estimate has now come to as much as $7.5 million.
Labadie said the town is looking for other revenue sources, perhaps grants from state and local governments.
During the Nov. 1 meeting, Labadie told commissioners the town will be saving about $400,000 by purchasing a used 2017 aerial truck instead of purchasing a new ladder truck.
That truck will be in addition to one currently used by Delray Beach’s fire rescue. The town will also have two rescue vehicles.
Commissioners in April 2021 voted to sever the contract with Delray Beach, believing they could provide better service at less than the estimated $5 million a year Highland Beach pays to the city.