A backhoe Tuesday morning dug into the earth, pulling up chunks of concrete from the foundation of Orange’s old Central Fire Station. The walls were gone after two weeks of demolition.

By the end of 2011, a new, modern and expanded Central Station should be ready for use at the same site, between Seventh and Eighth Streets.

Fire Chief David Frenzel said the two-story building is being designed by the architectural firm BRW (Brown, Reynolds and Watkins) of College Station. The design will blend in with the craftsman-style with red brick of Orange City Hall, similar to the way the new police station was built 10 years ago.

“I think (the new station) will be a great background to the northside of the civic plaza area,” Frenzel said.

The city is using hurricane recovery funds, plus some $350,000 in insurance, along with a $400,000 grant from the Bush-Clinton Foundation for disaster recovery, he said.

“It’s allowing the city to benefit a new structure at virtually no (local) taxpayer money,” Frenzel said.

The grants are not necessarily something the city wanted. Hurricane Ike flooded Central Station, like other areas of downtown.

“I never thought I would see the Gulf of Mexico in my office,” Frenzel said.

Central Station was built in 1946 and for more than 60 years, every new firefighter with the city was first assigned to Central, the chief said.

“That’s where you learned the ropes and got your experience,” he said.

But Frenzel, who has been with the department 41 years, and the other firefighters never dreamed they wouldn’t return to the station when they evacuated for Ike in September 2008.

The flooding made the station uninhabitable.
The first few weeks after the storm, firefighters set up beds, lockers and desks in the meeting room at the Orange Public Library. Fire trucks were kept behind the library. Then, the city found a building and space at the Port of Orange property off Border Street to serve as Central Station.

The city has two other stations, one north of Interstate 10 at Meeks Drive and Allie Payne Road, and the other on Martin Luther King Drive. Both are on the west side of the railroad tracks that divide the town; so the city needed a Central station on the east side.

The new station will be too big to fit onto the site where the first station was. The city bought an old two-story house facing Eighth Street on property adjacent to the station. In August, the Heritage House Museum bought the house for $650 from the city and will move it to become a new county history museum.

Heritage House lost its county history museum in the old Woodmen of the World Hall after Ike turned it around on its piers. The county demolished the building this summer and the county will build an office.

In addition, the city is in negotiations to buy a  historic house facing Eighth Street next to the property. Plans call for the city to have the house moved to a vacant lot in the historic district and then sold through bidding. City Manager Shawn Oubre has said the grants are also paying to move that house.

The design for the new station, along with the plans for the old houses, have been approved by the city’s Historic Preservation Commission.

Frenzel said the fire department wants to be good neighbors to the residents in the neighborhood who have restored houses in the district. He said the station wil have an opaque fence in the back to separate it from houses.

The new station will preserve some history, too. An area will be set aside as a mini-museum for the fire department. Frenzel said the department’s 1920 American LaFrance fire truck, which was the city’s third motorized engine, will be on display for kids to touch and climb.
The two-story building is being built with future hurricanes in mind. Administrative offices and living quarters for firefighters will be upstairs. The first floor will have bays to hold fire trucks and other department vehicles. If a storm is coming, the trucks can be driven to higher ground. Then, if the downstairs is flooded, the floor can be washed out and used again quickly.

Frenzel said designs should go before Orange City Council in early September for approval of details, including the exact shade of brick. Then, the architects will advertise for construction bids probably in mid-October, he said.

“Hopefully by the end of November or the first of December” the council will award a construction contract, Frenzel said. Construction likely won’t start until after the holiday season, he added.

The architects have told him the department could be in the new station by next November. “If we’re there by Christmas (2011), I’ll be happy,” the chief said.