Lady's Island-St. Helena Fire District breaks ground on new headquarters

emoody@beaufortgazette.comSeptember 12, 2013 

After the official groundbreaking ceremony Sept. 12, 2013, for the new Lady's Island/St. Helena Fire District headquarters station on Lady's Island Drive, a class of 4-year-olds from Hobbit Hill Too Preschool dug in. Pictured, from left is Khamari Coaxum, Colt Kushnereit, Alise Allen and Gianna Johnson, with State Rep. and Hobbit Hill owner Shannon Erickson standing behind.

STAFF PHOTO

The Lady's Island-St. Helena Fire District Fire officially broke ground Thursday on its future headquarters on Lady's Island.

A fire station is more than a structure to house equipment, fire engines and employees.

That was the message Thursday at a groundbreaking ceremony for the Lady's Island-St. Helena Fire District's new headquarters on Lady's Island.

"This is not a building," Fire Marshal Scott Baldwin said. "This is a house. It is a house where feelings will be shared, tears will be shared."

After three years of planning, construction will begin on the 12,000-square-foot station at 146 Lady's Island Drive, which will replace the aging 8,000-square-foot headquarters on Sea Island Parkway. It is expected to be completed by mid-March at a cost of no more than $3.4 million, Fire Chief Bruce Kline said.

The district will issue $6 million in bonds, which will pay for the building and two new engines. Proceeds also will be used to pay off two higher-interest loans totaling about $1.14 million. Property owners pay 2.3 mils annually for the debt; that means the owner of a $100,000 property within the district would pay $3.25 more per year in annual property taxes, according to Kline.

The land was purchased several years ago for about $385,000 and is not part of the $6 million bond. Work to prepare the site for construction began several weeks ago.

The district has contracted with Frazier Construction, which organized a team of several local firms for the work. The station will include three equipment bays, sleeping quarters, a day room and gym, and office space for all district command staff.

District Commissioner Gordon Bowers said the new station will centralize office space that is now spread throughout the district.

The station's location should also help lower insurance costs for property owners on the far reaches of Cat Island, which will be within five miles of the station.

"Moving to this new facility enhances the fire protection on Cat Island without hampering our current protection," Kline said.

The Insurance Services Organization rating, often used by insurance companies to measure a community's ability to provide fire protection, will drop from 9 to 4 for the Cat Island properties after the station opens, Bowers said. One is the best rating, and 10 the worst, according to the ISO.

The Sea Island Parkway station will be closed after the new headquarters is ready, Kline said. No plans have been made for the station the district has used for about 35 years. The district owns the building, and the county owns the land, he said. Closing that station will not negatively affect ISO rating anywhere in the district, spokesman Lee Levesque said.

State Rep. Shannon Erickson, R-Beaufort, who owns Hobbit Hill Preschool, which has a location beside the new station, sees another benefit.

"This is going to be great," she said. "They've always been there for us and our partner (for safety education month), but now they're going to be right here."

Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/IPBG_Erin.

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