Tavares, Fla., Police, Fire Sharing New Public Safety Complex

The Police Department will officially begin calling the $13.46 million building its new home on Monday, relocating from cramped quarters at City Hall. The Fire Department should be ready to move in about a week later.

by Jerry Fallstrom, Orlando Sentinel / August 20, 2019

(TNS) — Move-in day has finally arrived more than two months after residents got a sneak peek of the city’s new Public Safety Complex — for one of the tenants anyway.

The Police Department will officially begin calling the $13.46 million building at Alfred and Caroline streets its new home on Monday, relocating from cramped quarters at City Hall. The Fire Department should be ready to move in about a week later, Fire Chief Richard Keith said.

After the June 14 ribbon-cutting ceremony, Keith, who has been overseeing the project for the city, said he expected the police and fire departments to take occupancy in a couple of weeks. That prediction turned out to be overly optimistic. That’s OK, Keith said.

“We’ve been waiting years for this," he said. “Honestly, a few more weeks is not going to make much difference.”

The move was unexpectedly delayed by the need to complete a laundry list of last-minute items, including drywall fixes and drainage improvements after rain water seeped into the firetruck bays, according to Keith.

“We can’t really move the Fire Department in until we can bring in our firetrucks,” he said.

At the June 14 event, residents admired the 38,527-square-foot complex, which represents a significant upgrade for both departments.

Paul Guenter, 75, stood inside the cavernous area firetrucks will be parked — cooled by giant ceiling fans with 8-foot-long blades — and admired the facility that formerly housed a school district facility.

“They’ve worked out of a very, very poor setup over the years,” said Guenter, a resident of the Royal Harbor community off Little Lake Harris. “It’s long overdue.”

Those attending toured the two-story building, which also includes larger offices plus a firing range for police officers.

Peter Strohl, 83, a retired airline employee who has lived in the Baytree community since 1998, was intrigued as he checked out the firing range, which is about 45 feet long and 6 feet wide.

“Normally they’re outside somewhere with a big berm,” he said.

Keith said the two departments have been “playing catch-up" since the 1970s and finally have a home that will accommodate growth and last at least 50 years. The city currently has about 17,300 residents, according to the latest estimates.

The estimated crowd of 300 at the June 14 event included City Council members, U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster, R-Clermont, who delivered a U.S. flag that had flown over the Capitol, and a large contingent of police and firefighters eager to move to their new digs.

Nodding toward Webster, Keith noted that a crucial first step came with a $500,000 Federal Emergency Management Agency grant.

The project also involved a complex deal to acquire the property involving the city, the county and the School Board. The cost is being funded through revenue from the local-option penny sales tax.

It’ll be a major step up from the current facilities. The police department is ensconced in the former planning and zoning offices at City Hall, 201 E. Main St. The fire department’s home since the mid-1970s has been the reconditioned historic train depot at 424 E. Alfred St. Each has a skimpy 2,000 square feet or so of space.

A groundbreaking ceremony for the Public Safety Complex took place in November 2016. Guenter, a retired tradesman for Ford Motor Co. who attends the First United Methodist Church of Tavares next door to the complex, watched the project as it progressed.

He said it’s a contrast to the “World War II Quonset hut” that housed the school district’s fleet-management operation.

“It’s a big improvement,” he said.

GatorSktch Corp. of Clermont served as architect on the project and Wharton-Smith, Inc. as the contractor.

jfallstrom@orlandosentinel.com or 407-420-5444

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©2019 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.)

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