SEBRING — Though the previous county commission balked at a $200,000 price tag for an architect on the new Lake Placid fire station, the current one said OK.
The Board of County Commission unanimously approved Tuesday a renewed request from Public Safety Director Marc Bashoor, also chief of Highlands County Fire Rescue, to pay $205,900 to Sweet Sparkman Architects Inc. to design a new fire and emergency medical services station for Lake Placid — Station 36.
It works out to approximately 10% of the station’s overall construction cost, which is a standard fee, Bashoor said, attributing that quote to County Administrator Randy Vosburg and County Engineer Clinton Howerton Jr.
The previous board, when presented with a contract cost of $235,675, rejected that price and asked Howerton to add design of the station to his workload. Bashoor, in his presentation Tuesday, said that staff reviewed Howerton’s departmental workload and renegotiated a price for approximately $35,000 less.
Commissioner Arlene Tuck expressed concern that the firm might make back that discount with change orders. County Attorney Sherry Sutphen said any changes to the payment would have to come back to the board for approval.
Tuck also asked if Bashoor had sought bids on the project. He said 12 vendors bid on it and Sweet Sparkman was the selected bidder.
The proposed new building, to go on 2.61 acres beside AdventHealth Lake Placid, would have 9,000 square feet, double the size of the current station in downtown Lake Placid and large enough to provide housing for paid 24/7 emergency crews. It would also include greater ease of access to both U.S. 27 and the station itself when trucks return from a call.
The current station in downtown Lake Placid only has access onto Interlake Boulevard and has shell-road access for the flagship ladder truck assigned to that station.
Bashoor said Sweet Sparkman has already reduced the construction cost from $2.9 million to approximately $2 million by paring back on some materials. He has told the Lake Placid Town Council that construction should take approximately a year.
David Nitz, manager of the Office of Management and Budget, said the county has a $5.5 million loan to build facilities like this one. He said the county must allocate 85% of the loan, approximately $4.68 million, by Sept. 19, 2022, which is three years into the loan.
It can only be used for buildings and/or apparatus, not salaries for the full-time firefighters and medics the building will house. The same is true, Nitz said, for another $1.43 million in outstanding fund balance from the fire services districts prior to consolidation. All those funds must be used specific to those districts.
Commissioner Kathy Rapp said she would like to see the project “get going” given the timeline on the loan.
In all, that’s $6.93 million the county must commit to buildings and new fire engines and ambulances, as well as equipment, Nitz said.
Commissioner Kevin Roberts moved to approve the contract, seconded by Commissioner Chris Campbell. Roberts referred to Sweet Sparkman, based on Sarasota, as a “quite accomplished firm” with a number of fire houses to their credit.
When asked, Bashoor said that the design Sweet Sparkman provides will work for improving other firehouses in line for full-time staff, such as Highlands Lakes Station 1, damaged twice by hurricanes.
Beth Degnan of Highlands Park Estates, east of Lake Placid, balked at the amount of the project, calling the station a “Taj Mahal.” However, Ray Royce of the Lake Placid Town Council said the Lake Placid station has served and needs to continue to serve as the main facility for the southern half of the county.
Royce expressed a need to take time and do it right, but also stressed urgency.
“We can’t keep kicking it down the road,” Royce said.