An electrical fire damaged a portion of the Wildwood Police Department on Sunday afternoon, forcing the agency’s dispatchers to quickly evacuate its building at 100 Huey Street.
Chief Paul Valentino said an electrical wire fell on a fence attached to the building and the current traveled into the 70-plus-year-old former bomb shelter, causing a blaze in the mechanical room and filling the facility with smoke.
“Everybody got out of the building and nobody was hurt,” Valentino said. “That’s what matters the most.”
Mayor Ed Wolf echoed those sentiments Monday afternoon.
“We are really lucky nobody got hurt,” he said. “It wasn’t safe to go in there this morning and they’re still assessing the damage. But we’re also lucky that it missed that big propane tank outside the building. So we are really fortunate.”
Valentino praised his officers and staff for moving quickly Sunday and said his department was fully operational again within 45 minutes of the issue taking place. He said his patrol operation has moved to the department’s Brownwood annex, his administrative team is working out of the Wildwood Community Center and his dispatchers relocated to the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office on nearby Powell Road.
City Manager Jason McHugh wrote in a memo to Wildwood commissioners that the facility received “extensive damage, the extent of which has yet to be determined.” He added that the city’s insurance company is sending an adjuster to assess the overall damage and a fire restoration company to assist with the cleanup effort.
The call for help at the police department came at 3:41 p.m. Sunday. The Sumter County Fire Department responded with a cadre of units and was backed up on mutual aid by engines from The Villages Public Safety Department.
Meanwhile, Valentino said, it’s important for Wildwood residents to know that their police department is fully functional should they need an officer for any reason.
“We are up and running and available,” he said.
Wildwood currently is moving forward on a new police station headquarters that will be located at County Road 462 West and U.S. 301 – a seven-acre site the city purchased more than two years ago for $625,000 (the price later was reduced after sinkholes were found on the property.)
Architectural work on the proposed 13,200-square-foot building nearly is complete, with the estimated cost to be somewhere in the neighborhood of $6.9 million.
The Wildwood Commission recently voted to appoint a second selection committee to solicit proposals for a Construction Manager at Risk to supervise construction of the new police station. And they agreed to issue $7 million in capital improvement revenue bonds through Citizen’s First Bank to finance the project.
Commissioners originally hoped to spend about $3.5 million on the new building, but this past January they learned the price tag had doubled. Some of the changes from the original building design included going from a metal building to stucco and brick, adding a sally port for secure transfer of suspects, a movable wall in the community room, a tower near the building’s entrance and space for a new communications center.
The old police station building probably will be turned into a records room at some point, depending the on the damage assessment from Sunday’s fire.