St. Petersburg Fire Rescue and Police K-9 units will soon move out of a dilapidated training facility that was once a dumping ground into a new, start-of-the-art complex along Lake Maggiore.
City councilmember Gina Driscoll said she began requesting funding for the much-needed project in 2018, her first year on the dais. The council unanimously approved an architectural and engineering agreement with Sweet Sparkman Architects Thursday.
The $186,655 in city funding will allow the Sarasota-based firm to begin the pre-design process. That includes extensive site analysis, master planning, and cost estimating for a six-acre compound at Lake Maggiore Park.
“Because this is parkland, we understand that it’s going to require a substantial change of use,” said City Architect Raul Quintana. “Which, the city council will be seeing that as well.”
Quintana said Sweet Sparkman emerged from the selection process due to its extensive experience with similar facilities. Company officials operate a St. Pete satellite office, and he said they included an outside consultant who has designed over 400 training complexes nationwide.
Richard Ganci, fire safety and training chief, said the existing classrooms “are in pretty bad shape.” The facility is 45 years old.
He noted that the floors and other structural components are in disrepair. Councilmember Ed Montanari said he toured the complex on a chilly day and quickly realized the classrooms lacked heat.
“Just think of sitting in a classroom that’s not heated,” Montanari said. “It’s time for something new and better for the members of St. Pete Fire Rescue.”
Ganci said fire and police officials spent over three years searching the city for a potential new training headquarters. They realized the current location is “the best place for us to cohabitate and work together, which we do very well.”
Despite the deterioration, Ganci explained that public safety agencies throughout the county and region visit the site for joint training exercises. He said new state-of-the-art fire immersion rooms that engulf trainees in flames would bolster firefighting capabilities by mimicking real-world scenarios.
The first goal is identifying the best fit for the project inside Lake Maggiore Park, Quintana said. The area also houses several storage and maintenance facilities.
A massive brush site sits on the opposite side of a dirt road leading to the archaic complex. Montanari said wind-blown dust and debris are not conducive to firefighting or K-9 training.
That is one of the sanitation department’s two compost piles, and Ganci said he would like to consolidate and move the yard waste north.
“The whole area there was actually kind of a dumping site back in the day,” Driscoll said. “I do wonder about any environmental impacts … and I just want to make sure you guys are looking at that because I know there can be some issues from time to time.”
Quintana explained that the preferred location for the compound is a “predominantly undisturbed” archery zone. He said design firm Stantec, a sub-consultant, will address any environmental, water quality and permitting issues.
Ganci said fire training would operate around the construction and move to a location closer to 49th Street South when needed. Using St. Petersburg College’s high-rise training facility is also an option.
Assistant Police Chief Michael Kovacsev said the K-9 units occupy a smaller footprint – about an acre – and typically train at night. He believes they will encounter minimal disruptions.
Councilmember Richie Floyd expressed his excitement for the project and said it could increase public access around Lake Maggiore. Quintana said city officials will meet with the Friends of Boyd Hill Nature Preserve, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting and supporting the area, as part of the project’s first phase.
Quintana said administrators would include community stakeholders in the process and that the park “is going to be a big part of the discussions we have as well.”
Project officials will first discuss consolidating spaces before determining a conceptual design. Quintana said that would help determine a cost estimate before negotiating a full design agreement.
He hopes to bring that before the council by early 2024. Quintana expects the entire process to take about two and a half years.
“We’re going to bring in a construction manager in a couple of months and then get down to the nuts and bolts of designing and building this facility,” he said. “This is exciting; this is the first step in getting there.”