(Nov. 29, 2013) Preliminary designs for the much-awaited new Ocean City Beach Patrol building were reviewed by City Council this week, with some continuing concern over the project’s lavish layout despite considerable cuts having already been made by city staff.
“[In] the first design go-around, the building was about 3,000 square feet larger than what we’re showing you today,” said City Engineer Terry McGean. “It was quite an effort to get it down to where it needed to be.”
Still, what amount of space is the right amount of space for the new facility has been difficult to gauge. On one hand, the OCBP is the primary face of the town to most visitors and has a high public profile. On the other hand, it is fully operational for only a little over three months of the year, and its primary function occurs on the beach, not in a headquarters building.
“This project is going to be 98 percent empty nine months of the year,” said Councilman Joe Mitrecic. “I’m still concerned that it’s too big for what is necessary.”
The city will be borrowing $2 million next month to finance construction. The first phase of design, McGean said, has resulted in a slight cost increase, but one that could be absorbed by the 15 percent overage contingency the city had included in its original figure.
“Although the cost went up, we felt comfortable reducing the contingency to ten percent, so we’re basically still at $2 million,” McGean said.
Roughly $60,000 of this increase came from incorporating covered porches into the design, a feature favored by the municipally-backed Ocean City Development Corporation’s aesthetic guidelines.
OCDC owns the lot on which the new OCBP building will be built, and will be swap property with the city for the current OCBP site, which is part of the group’s “model block” design initiative. OCDC will also be paying for 35 percent of the $2 million bond repayment using revenue from the inlet parking lot, which is collected by the city in part to fund OCDC.
“We’re trying to follow our own rules,” McGean said. “The downtown guidelines do call for porches…so we try to make ourselves do what we make everyone else do, as much as we can.”
“It’s tough,” noted OCDC Executive Director Glenn Irwin. “You want it to fit in, but you don’t want to make it look like a house when it’s a civic building.”
“We’ve supported your guidelines on private buildings, and I think Terry’s right that we need to do the same ourselves,” said Mayor Rick Meehan.
The current design, assembled by architects from Becker Morgan, calls for a three-story structure with its entrance facing diagonally into the intersection of Talbot Street and Philadelphia Avenue. The new building will be located on the southeast corner of that junction.
One of the OCBP’s main complaints about their current building one block south on Dorchester Street – other than the fact that it is rotting out from under them – is a lack of storage space for boards, buoys, and other equipment, something which the new design seeks to remedy by including nearly 3,000 square feet of storage.
The new building will also feature increased amenities for the Ocean City Police Department, which uses part of the facility for its downtown bicycle patrol officers. The new design features a bicycle storage room with upright racks, as well as a workshop and computer station for officers to fill out maintenance logs and file reports.
These core facilities, located mostly on the ground floor of the building, raised few questions from council Tuesday. Of more concern, however, were the extensive office and administrative spaces on the second and third floors.
“Compared to other department head’s offices that I’m familiar with…no disrespect to the beach patrol, but this seems large,” said Council Secretary Mary Knight of the 250 square foot captain’s office.
“The original size was 350,” McGean noted. “We cut it down considerably. He [OCBP Capt. Butch Arbin] does do a lot of interviews and things like that in his office.”
“My office is about 200,” McGean said. “I don’t think it’s unreasonable.”
Besides the captain’s office, the administrative floors of the new building feature four slightly smaller lieutenant’s offices, as well as an office for the Junior Beach Patrol program, a joint workroom for sergeants, a dispatch room, receptionist’s area, conference room, and administrative assistant’s office.
“It seems like you would have many people out [on the beach] at a time versus one in the office,” Knight said.
“How many hours per day to the lieutenants spend in the office?” Mitrecic posed. “It seems like at least two could share an office.”
Much of the office space, OCBP Lt. Ward Kovacs noted, is necessary for storage.
“Each one of us has a different job set with different materials,” Kovacs said. “Lt. Stone, for instance, does the scheduling…he’s got shelves and shelves full of binders and records. It would not be efficient for us to share that space.”
Also of note was the fact that visitors coming into the building’s main entrance would be greeted with a 245 square foot lobby that essentially only serves to direct visitors to an elevator leading up to the receptionist’s area on the third floor.
“It just seems like a lot of lobby area,” Meehan said.
“I think making it smaller would signify to person that there’s a next step to get where you’re going…versus a great big space without a soul there,” Knight said.
Questions were also raised as to why the building featured so many ground-level exterior doors, 11 in total, and whether this de-centralized method of accessing different elements of the building was the best way to go.
“You have a lot of points of ingress and egress,” said Councilman Dennis Dare. “If someone in the equipment room wants to go up to the office, they have to leave the building and go around to the stair tower.”
“If we reduce the number of exterior doors, we’re going to be increasing the number of corridors and hallways,” McGean said. Only so many could be eliminated without sacrificing the current efficiency of space, he noted.
“If we have to go a little above and beyond, I’m okay with that,” said Councilman Brent Ashley.
“Does it do what you want?” he asked Kovacs, who responded to the affirmative. “That’s the bottom line for me.”
“Once we’ve reached the next phase of the design, we’ll do another cost estimate and come back to you,” McGean said.