LAKE CITY — The Morrow fire marshall has barred residents from using Lake City’s new, $764,000 community center because a design flaw restricts emergency responders’ access to the surrounding nature preserve, city officials have announced.
Fire trucks and ambulances can’t access the nature preserve easily, and the only two places where they can enter give them only peripheral access to the property. First responders, therefore, have limited access to at least one-quarter of the nature preserve. Fire hydrants were also not included in the preserve so fire fighters also have limited water access to fight fires.
As a result, Morrow’s fire marshall — who is contracted to inspect buildings in both cities — refused to issue a permanent certificate of occupancy for the community center last week.
Lake City Community Services Director Eddie Robinson told the city council Thursday the architects who designed the $2 million nature preserve’s layout skipped a critical step that would have caught the deficiencies.
“[The city has] come to find out those plans for that nature park were never sent to the fire marshall to be examined for life-safety codes,” said Robinson. “So the gates weren’t made wide enough for the fire trucks. The bridges weren’t built big enough for the ambulance to go across. If you’re on the other side of the park, there’s no way to get a rescue unit to you.”
Despite the issues with the nature preserve’s design, Robinson said the design of the community center is not in question. “He OKed the building but not us opening it,” said Robinson. Since no plans for the park were submitted to the fire marshall for review, he did not get a chance to see the layout of the nature preserve until he came to inspect the community center, said Robinson.
The fire marshall will, however, issue a temporary, two-hour certificate of occupancy for the building. It will let residents enter the facility only for an opening ceremony Oct. 6 from 1 p.m. until 3 p.m.
Robinson said the Colorado-based architectural firm, CH2MHill, was paid $320,000 to design the park, which opened less than a year ago. He said the community center was designed by a different architectural firm.
A CH2MHill employee responded to a Clayton News Daily inquiry but would not consent to giving her full name or job title. She said the nature preserve was designed the way it was because architects did dnot know the city would build a community center on the property. She suggested the issue could have been addressed if city officials had told the company a building would be built.
The employee was dismissive of a question about paramedics and fire fighters not having easy access to the back parts of the preserve.
Council members stayed quiet throughout Robinson’s presentation, but City Attorney Steve Fincher criticized the architects and contractors used to build the nature preserve for not catching the error. “They all should have known better,” he said.
Robinson is keeping an open mind to the possibility the architects’ decision to not submit the nature preserve’s design to the fire marshall was an oversight.
“I don’t know why they didn’t take it to the fire marshall unless they thought it was a park and they didn’t have to take it to the fire marshall,” said Robinson. “You don’t have to have a [certificate of occupancy] for a park.”
City officials are now scrambling to find a solution to the design flaws. Robinson said a water line will have to be built from the city’s municipal park to the community center so a fire hydrant can be installed in the park. He also said he may have to install emergency call boxes in the southwest corner of the park, where fire trucks and ambulances currently can’t reach stranded people in need of medical assistance.
City Manager Joel Lanken promised the council solutions would be found to allow the city to get a permanent certificate of occupancy for the community center.
“We’re going to get the thing handled and there will be solutions next week,” said Lanken.
For now, paramedics and firefighters can only access that remote area by foot, but Robinson said he may have to give them access to the city’s golf cart and Bobcat vehicle to allow for faster responses.
“I have a golf cart plus we have a Bobcat with a lift bed, but it’s coded,” said Robinson. “So I’m going to meet with the fire marshall and say ‘Here’s the code if you need somebody to come down, I’ll train ya how to drive it’ if there’s an emergency. That way, they’ll have a way to get back in there [in the interior of the nature preserve].”
That raises multi-jurisdictional issues since Lake City does not have its own fire and emergency services department. The city has a contract with Morrow to provide those services.
As for how the design flaws will affect Lake City’s wallet, what is known at this point is that it will certainly cost money to fix the design problems.
Things become uncertain from that point. Lake City officials are still trying to determine how much adjustments to the nature preserve will cost.
One thing is for certain. Unless a solution can be found to the design issues, Lake City will continue to have a brand new community center that no one will be allowed to use.