Groveland's cops and firefighters are in store for a major upgrade in their working conditions.
The city will spend up to $12 million on a new public safety complex on State Road 50 and Beverly Drive. The concept is still in the design stage, but plans call for a 35,000-square-foot, two-story structure that will replace facilities that first responders have occupied for at least half a century.
"The older sites for both us and the police, they're cramped and inadequate," said Fire Chief Willie Morgan. "They are obsolete. What we're looking to do is basically bring our administration and our operations up to date and, of course, to provide the area the level of service we need out of that station."
The building will house fire department administration and the trucks, apparatus and personnel that are now occupying Station 95 downtown. Police administration and officers from the downtown station will also move to the new facility, which will have a full sally port and jail processing section.
The building includes shared fitness facilities, locker rooms, and emergency operations areas. There are day rooms for firefighters and a small police armory, with primarily offices on the second floor.
The architect is GatorSktch Corp. of Clermont.
Groveland's community development and building departments will also move from City Hall to the new complex.
The police department has 46 employees overall, while the fire department has 22 at two existing stations.
The police department is "bursting at the seams" at its existing headquarters, which was built in 1949, according to Police Chief Shawn Ramsey. "We've outgrown this facility and the longevity of the building has long exceeded expectations."
The new public safety complex was originally part of a grand plan for a downtown renovation as part of a state Department of Transportation strategy to realign State Road 50 out of downtown. As those plans fizzled and the road realignment plan creeps forward, Groveland officials decided to act independently on the police-fire project.
The complex will sit on 18.4 acres the city already owns between Tractor Supply Co. and Indian Hills Produce on State Road 50. Of those, 6.7 acres are wetlands that will remain undisturbed. The city recently renewed an environmental permit application originally approved in 2012.
The project is expected to go to bid "in the next couple of months," according to John Ter Louw, Groveland's finance director. The $12 million has been budgeted, and the city council will have to approve the contractor who lands the successful bid. Ter Louw said construction should be completed in 18 months.
"These are exciting times, not only for the police department but for the city of Groveland itself," said Ramsey, the police chief. "We're very much a police department that's community-oriented, we have strong community policing policies, and it seems to be effective."
Groveland's slogan, City with Natural Charm, "starts with the men and women in uniform that represent our city each and every day," Ramsey said.