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Expanding the EOC: Awaited project nudges forward

By Staff | Apr 3, 2010

Plans to expand the city’s Emergency Operations Center to include the fire department’s headquarters is moving forward, but on a smaller scale and for fewer dollars.
On Monday, the Cape Coral City Council approved proceeding with the design of the building addition to the Emergency Operations Center, or EOC. The city has contracted with TOTeMS Architecture Inc. for the design services at a not-to-exceed amount of $148,197, with $13,848 of that reimbursable.
The $1.1 million project will add 3,400 square feet to the EOC, providing space for the Cape Coral Fire Department’s administration and emergency management. The project will be funded with All Hazard dollars, no general fund dollars, and will take about 80 weeks from design to construction.
“It’s going to have offices for all the command staff and secretarial support staff, conference room and expanded restroom facilities,” Fire Chief Bill Van Helden said.
Like the EOC, the addition will be able to withstand a Category 5 hurricane and it is expected to sustain fire and emergency services for five-10 years.
“We are just thankful we have the support of the mayor and council,” Van Helden said. “We do think it’s a frugal approach in light of what our economic times are.”
The project initially was projected to cost $2.6 million and involved 6,600 square feet. Facing budget shortfalls, Van Helden and city staff took a second look at the plan to determine if it could be done on a smaller scale and still accomplish the goal.
“We determined we could do it,” Oliver Clarke, an engineer with the city’s Public Works Department, said.
Staff eliminated $310,000 worth of demolition and rebuilding tied into the original plan, along with a second power generator, to reduce the cost of the project. Clarke said reducing the size of the addition saved about $650,000 and the design cost dropped as the size shrunk, saving another $88,000.
Van Helden said the old police and fire building will continue to house Fire Prevention, as well as some city departments. The former evidence building for the police department, which was added to the old building a few years ago, will house supplies, equipment and support services personnel.
Moving some personnel into the former evidence building was one element that enabled the reduced scale project to work. He added that the size also could be reduced because the fire department’s command staff is smaller now than when officials first started on the project three years ago.
“Our goal is to allow the Emergency Operations Center to be restored back to its original purpose,” Van Helden said.
For example, the EOC’s media room has been turned into an office.
“It’s an example of some of the things that have changed,” he said.
With the cost of the project reduced, officials were able to reallocate the $2.6 million, pumping $1 million back into the city’s general fund. According to Van Helden, $1 million in disaster emergency reserves had been set aside for the original project. That money was to come from the general fund.
“It frees up a million dollars to go back to the general fund,” he said.
Officials also dedicated $160,000 toward the Hazardous Materials and Technical Rescue Team to help offset costs and salaries for fiscal years 2010 and 2011. These are currently paid out of the city’s general fund.
“Anything we can do to help offset the general fund budget, we’re going to do that,” Van Helden said. “We looked at what our needs are, not our wants.”
He added that the department was spending more than $30,000 annually to lease off-site storage space that will no longer be needed with the addition.
“There’s still about $380,000 left for other emergency management things after this project is done,” he said.
According to Clark, staff looked at how the facility could be easily expanded in the future when they considered whether a reduced addition was plausible.
“When we reduced the size of the building, we incorporated planning for expanding it later in a manner that would be efficient,” he said. “What we have is perfectly functional, but at some point we’ll have to work on it.”
Clarke added that any future work should not cost an excessive amount.
“Given that we can expand it easily, it’s really not a problem for building a smaller project now,” he said. “We’re not going to end up having to pay a lot extra for expanding it at a later stage than we would have doing it now.”