UNIVERSITY PARK -- If you're not looking for it, it can be pretty difficult to spot the new fire station built to protect one of the fastest-growing areas in Manatee and Sarasota counties.
In January, Sarasota County opened its Station 17 at 5501 DeSoto Road, less than a minute's drive from the newest enclosed mall in Florida and the University Town Center commercial district. Built over the course of 14 months on a $4.3 million budget, the gray, low-slung, concrete, glass-and-steel structure was designed to blend in with an area defined by new construction.
Since operations started at the station, its 24-hour staff of five firefighters have been responding to an average of about five emergency calls daily. They work out of a facility that currently houses one fire engine, two ambulances and a Sarasota County Sheriff's precinct. By next year, one of the structure's three massive equipment bays will be home to a new incident command bus. The bus is expected to be in service in time for the 2017 World Rowing Championships to be held at nearby Benderson Park.
Designed by Sweet Sparkman Architects of Sarasota, Station 17's lines echo the modern commercial design of nearby retail properties. It is also in tune with 13 acres of open space the county owns behind it. A porch out back gives firefighters fantastic views of a pond and woodlands, said Assistant Fire Chief Bill Hoag.
"We wanted a newer, fresher design that was low maintenance and would fit into the area," he said.
The station's amenities include nine sleeping bunks for firefighters, a workout room, a day room and a fully equipped kitchen. Meals coming out of that kitchen, Hoag said, are an activity around which station life revolves.
"That's one of the most important things about the
fire station," he said.
The structure is built to last. It is reinforced to function through a Category 4 hurricane and has a backup generator that can power its functions for up to three days. Station 17's duty life is an expected 50 years.
On a basic maintenance level, the station embodies ease of use down to its structural components. Its cast concrete walls and cement floors are color tinted. Chips and other damage will not stand out and the material will never need to be painted.
Efficiency was another driving factor in the station's design. Last week, it was certified by the U.S. Green Building Council as LEED Silver. Hoag said the station consumes little power. The electricity bill works out to about $4 per hour.
Hoag said the county worked to get the most for its money at Station 17. A significant portion of the cost was paid with money collected from development impact fees.
Locating both the fire department and the sheriff's inside the 13,000-square-foot structure is intended to give it maximum usefulness.
Prior to building Station 17, the county had planned another station on 2 acres on the east side of Interstate 75 in Lakewood Ranch. Growth spurred by The Mall at University Town Center increased the demand for emergency services on the west side of the freeway to the point that the county opted to develop that location first, Hoag said.
Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027 or on Twitter @MattAtBradenton.