City’s new fire station to be a model of form, function

The design of Charleston’s Fire Station No. 9 has won a national award from the Fire Industry Equipment Research Organization. Its construction should begin this summer.

The city of Charleston soon will begin building its largest fire station ever — a five-bay building with the Fire Department’s headquarters on the second floor.

Mayor Joe Riley said the new station No. 9 will serve the entire city from its central Neck Area location.

It’s expected to cost about $5.5 million, and bids are due later this month. Construction could begin this summer and end in late 2013.

The building will replace the much smaller station at King and Heriot streets, a structure that currently houses a firetruck but not any firefighters because of mold problems.

The brick, metal and glass design for Station No. 9, done by Rosenblum Coe Architects, is expected to qualify for a silver rating from the U.S. Green Building Council, which reviews a building’s energy use both during construction and its daily operation.

“It’s already an award-winning design, and it hasn’t been constructed yet,” Riley said, adding the Fire Industry Equipment Research Organization has recognized the building’s architectural plan.

Architect Steve Coe said a big design challenge was on devices to shade the building and lower its cooling costs. “We wanted to make it somewhat of a transparent building but protect the interior from the sun and the heat,” he said.

The new headquarters building not only will be designed to withstand earthquakes, but its more northerly location also will keep it from being affected by flooding or a storm surge, Riley said.

“It’s a place where, should there be an oncoming major hurricane, the Fire Department could relocate equipment to,” he added.

Station No. 9’s 19,500 square feet will include room for a regular engine company, a hazmat team, a kitchen and sleeping quarters, a fitness room, plus offices and training space.

It also will have space to house one of the city’s four downtown engine companies — on a temporary basis — as the city gradually retrofits its more historic fire stations to withstand earthquakes, Coe said.

Its completion will mark an end of an era for the city’s historic central fire station at Meeting and Wentworth streets, one of the department’s first stations and its longtime headquarters. That station will keep operating and will continue to serve as a sort of museum to the city’s firefighting history.

The city briefly considered moving the headquarters to the Savannah Highway Sofa Super Store site, a large parcel the city acquired after a 2007 fire there claimed the lives of nine firefighters.

But Riley said the city not only had other stations near there, but some firefighters also felt such an intensive use would not be appropriate for the hallowed site.

The city’s plans for that site include a memorial garden flanked on three sides by a new office building to screen the garden from Savannah Highway and nearby commercial sites.

Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.