A privacy fence was installed around the site of the new fire station as construction began last month. The project means a temporary loss of about 25 parking spaces at Town Hall, and the town is working on solutions for that issue. Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star
By Rich Pollack
Highland Beach is 12 months away from starting Palm Beach County’s first new fire department in 30 years and now the first visible signs of the town’s break with Delray Beach Fire Rescue are starting to show.
Last month crews began construction on a more than $8 million fire station on what was the parking lot in front of Town Hall.
The new station, which will be home to 24 firefighter paramedics and two chiefs, is targeted to be completed by the time Highland Beach begins providing fire service next May.
The start of construction means a rerouting of vehicles entering Town Hall and the disappearance of about 25 parking spaces.
Until last month, cars entered the Town Hall complex from the north and exited at the south end. With construction taking up the parking area in front of the police station, vehicles are now entering and exiting the town property at the south end.
The town is working to develop possible flex work schedules for some employees to offset challenges that come with the loss of parking spaces, Town Manager Marshall Labadie said.
In addition, events at the library will be moved to evenings when most employees are no longer at the town complex and more spaces are available.
Labadie said the town is also looking at other parking options including nearby private lots.
Once completed, the new station at the south end of the town’s municipal complex will include two stories of living space and a two-bay garage housing a ladder truck and a rescue vehicle. A backup rescue vehicle and a backup fire truck will be housed on town property nearby.
Additional parking spaces will be added back onto town property once partial demolition of the existing fire station is completed. That station, Labadie said, was too small and too old to continue using once the town takes over fire service.
One challenge the town faced in building the new station was increased costs due to inflation and supply chain issues.
Under a contract with Kaufman Lynn Construction, the price tag for the station is not to exceed $8.6 million, which is in excess of $1 million more than the town first anticipated.
Labadie said that the town will be using a portion of about $2 million in federal money to help keep total start-up costs under $10 million, the amount voters approved for the project.
While the fire station is just beginning to come out of the ground, much preparation for this milestone in the town’s public safety evolution has been going strong behind the scenes.
“I think we’re right on track,” said Fire Chief Glenn Joseph. “The next major milestone is recruiting firefighter/paramedics.”
Joseph expects to start that process this month and said several firefighter/paramedics have expressed interest.
“The response has been positive,” he said.
Joseph is also finalizing the hiring of an assistant chief for community risk reduction, who will assess risks and hazards, such as obstacles in a home that could lead to falls, and find solutions. An administrative coordinator is also being hired.
Another focus, Joseph said, is on developing policies and procedures and record-keeping software.
Highland Beach commissioners voted in April 2021 to sever the contract with Delray Beach, believing they could provide improved service at less than the estimated $5 million a year Highland Beach pays to the city.