MANATEE — There are rat droppings, a line of ants crawling up the wall and exposed pipes from public rest rooms ushering in water flush sounds.
An exposed toilet with a partial partition and standing shower are crammed in the rear with an ice machine and rescue equipment hangs toward the front of the 10-by-20-foot storage facility.
For years, this has been where county marine rescue lifeguards debrief, check out equipment and clean up after rescues.
“Look at what I’m working with and what my staff deals with each day,” said Manatee County Marine Rescue Chief Jay Moyles, standing inside a cramped marine rescue storage compound.
In about 10 months, all of that will change.
A new Marine Rescue headquarters will be constructed on the bay side of Coquina Beach, giving rescue staff from both the marine division and Manatee County Sheriff’s Office marine unit access to intracoastal waterways, Sarasota Bay and Manatee County beaches.
The new facility will feature a garage and storage area for boats and equipment on the first floor with offices, locker rooms and a kitchen area on the second floor.
Palmetto-based Zirkelbach Construction is building the new 4,250-square-foot facility at a cost of $1,149,175, according to county documents.
“It’s a long time coming,” Moyles said. “We’re excited.”
A busy unit
The marine unit is responsible not only for manning the towers as lifeguards on Manatee’s beaches, but also responding to nearby car crashes and enforcing county code.
Lieutenants and captains are licensed with the U.S. Coast Guard. Staff members also are certified paramedics who can drive ambulances if needed.
They are the last ones off the island in the event of a hurricane.
“We get dispatched to calls because we’re part of the 911 system,” Moyles said standing on the second level on the main tower at Coquina Beach.
“It’s more than what people see here.”
About 20 people were in the water at the beach Friday enjoying the sun.
“How many swimmers do you see?” asked Moyles.
“I don’t see any swimmers. These people are waders. A true swimmer can put their face in the water and swim 100 meters without stopping.”
Lifeguards try to mitigate water incidents before they occur, he said.
They constantly have to monitor the water and beach area.
With a budget crunch, the hours the beach is manned, as well as the number of lifeguards on staff, have been cut, he said.
To undergo training and use computers, lifeguards currently have to drive to the public safety complex.
When the new headquarters is built they will be able to stay on site.
‘I was shocked’
Outside the current storage area, which is connected to public restrooms, a small motor boat faded by the elements sits on a trailer propped up by patio chairs. A tarp on the boat is torn and ripped by raccoons.
A lift station gives off methane gas several feet away, speeding up the corrosion of the equipment, Moyles said. Equipment inside the storage area is sometimes damaged by rats.
Carol Whitmore, county commissioner, toured the facility before the board approved the project.
“I just never realized where we stored our equipment. I went there and literally all the equipment — everything — is stored outside in the open elements. ... They are literally attached to a bathroom,” she said. “I was shocked we have been allowing these conditions for years. (The project) is long overdue with the traffic we have there.”