In the works for more than three decades, the relocation of the historic Fort Christian fire station took a final step forward Monday with a groundbreaking on the new site in Estate Taarnbjerg, St. Thomas.
The 2.7 acre parcel of land is the site of the former Warren E. Brown housing community and will eventually house a state-of-the art two-story facility that will include everything from the V.I. Fire Services’ arson and prevention unit to a conference room, classrooms, sleeping quarters and gym across more than 17,000 square feet.
“This is a building that represents a future, that represents a vision,” Gov. John deJongh Jr. said during Monday’s event. “It represents a change in a community and the commitment of a community to understanding what is important, and recognizing that we needed to make an investment in people that take care of us was an easy decision to make.”
The land was bought from the V.I. Housing Authority for about $300,000 in 2009 and funds from the Federal Highway Administration will also be covering approximately 72 percent of the project, or a little more than $6.1 million out of an anticipated $8.5 million total.
The local government will provide 28 percent of the financing, with funds appropriated over the years through the Legislature; a final $1 million will come from the Department of the Interior, officials said Monday.
Lead project architect John Woods said that combining the local and federal funds means designing a building that is in line with both national and V.I. standards for safety and functionality. Officials have long spoken about the need to move the station out of the downtown area, which is often packed with people, and out the immediate path for tsunamis and other natural disasters.
“In trying to establish the standard that you have to have for this facility, the requirements really came from this territory, it didn’t come from away,” Woods explained. “It was through the efforts of the assistant director and director and their team that we understood what they wanted to have in this station and there are a lot of things here that will make it unique.”
DeJongh and other speakers explained that the idea of relocating the station came up more than 30 years ago, as plans to expand the Waterfront and Veterans Drive started to develop, but the process eventually slowed down as potential sites were identified and eliminated, negotiations with the V.I. Housing Authority were delayed and the global economic recession hit.
What it took to see the project through was a steady commitment from the government and, according to V.I. Housing Authority Executive Director Robert Graham, a call from deJongh saying, “Find the red tape and cut through it.” From that point, designs were finalized, permits were completed and a notice for the contractor to proceed with construction was given this month. The start of construction, officials added, is anticipated on Jan. 12.
“It took most of the decade, but great ideas can only be slowed down,” Graham added Monday. “In the end, though, they will survive.”