By NANETTE LoBIONDO GALLOWAY
VENTNOR – The bids are in and now it’s time to fund the replacement of “the forgotten stepchild of Ventnor,” Fire Station No. 2 on Wellington Avenue in the Ventnor Heights section.
The Board of Commissioners Thursday, Jan. 24 introduced a bond ordinance appropriating $3.5 million to fund the engineering, architectural design, permitting and bidding documentation, along with the demolition, site work and reconstruction of the firehouse, which Fire Chief Michael Cahill said was originally built as a temporary structure. The bond will also fund the furnishings, fixtures and equipment needed to operate the public safety building.
Cahill said the city has received 11 bids for the project, which are currently under review for accuracy and adherence bid specifications and that they meet federal, state and local contract guidelines.
The city previously bonded $1.5 million for repairs to the firehouse, but Cahill said the building is beyond repair, has outlived its usefulness, and the amount previously authorized is not enough to replace the aging structure.
Station No. 2 was built in 1972 as a temporary replacement for an older firehouse located at the foot of the water tower a few blocks away. It doesn’t meet current building codes established by FEMA for critical infrastructure buildings, he said.
He previously called the firehouse the “forgotten stepchild of Ventnor” because it has been neglected for so long.
The firehouse was built to accommodate one firefighter and one apparatus of the era, which at that time were about 20 percent smaller than today’s vehicles, Cahill said. The firehouse now houses two engines, an ambulance and a rescue boat, along with two firefighters, who must really like each other to cohabitate in such a small space, he said.
The existing building has about 250 square feet of living space, including a kitchenette and a half-bath. There’s a couch set up in the bay area where firefighters watch TV when they are not responding to calls for service and only a very small workout area located behind the firetrucks.
“Water pours through the walls when it rains…the windows leak air and heat, and it was built to last 15 years,” he said. “You can push on walls and the rot is immediately evident because whole walls can move. It needs to be taken down and replaced.”
Cahill said members of the Ventnor City Fire Department were preparing to file grievances with their union over living conditions.
“When you think about it, they do live there 24 hours a day. The time has come, it needs to go. I spent six years there and I hated every day of it,” he said. ‘If anyone wants to see it, I will take you over and show it to you.”
The new firehouse will be designed to be utilitarian and something the city can be proud of aesthetically, Commissioner of Public Safety Tim Kriebel said.
“It can serve generations well into the future,” he said.
The building will last 80 to 100 years and be made of pre-cast concrete panels to withstand a 500-year storm as per FEMA standards, he said.
“The building will be much safer for the firefighters assigned there and, God forbid, is a building of last resort if we need to retreat to during a storm,” Cahill said.
Kriebel said the bonding is justified because the Ventnor Heights area needs to have adequate fire protection.
“We have a brisk fire department in terms of calls, and we need that presence in the area,” he said.
The Ventnor Heights firehouse is located north of the inland waterway and is separated from the main part of the city by the drawbridge on Dorset Avenue, which sometimes gets stuck in the open position. Although Station No. 1 could respond to a fire in the Heights, it is about 5 minutes away, which is a lifetime if your house is on fire, Cahill said previously.
Once demolition begins, the equipment and firefighters will be housed in a temporary structure being erected on the 300-block of Surrey Avenue.
The new building will have two stories, with a kitchen and office on the ground level, and a dorm room and training room on the second floor, where residents could be held in refuge during an emergency.
A public hearing on the bond ordinance will be held 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 14.
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