Groundbreaking for the Emergency Operations Center should happen in the next few weeks  

September 21 – Having plans and places to go for emergencies really is critical in the Keys.

Cary Knight, Director of Project Management for Monroe County, joined Good Morning Keys on KeysTalk 96.9/102.5FM to talk about the various projects in the area.

Right now Monroe County repurposes a chamber for the Board of County Commissioners for the Emergency Operations Center (EOC). It’s not ideal.

Knight said, “Hats off to everybody who was here during Irma and the flexibility of how everyone worked to make those spaces functional.”

So this will technically be the first, true EOC for Monroe County on the southwest corner of the Marathon airport property.

Knight explained, “Sixteen or so feet in the air. One-story building, elevated. It’s going to house emergency management, a 911 call center and our admin portion of our fire department. That will be an absolutely fantastic addition for grey skies, but we’ve also designed it as a dual functionality so that it’s used year-round as well.”

During times of blue skies, it can also be used as a training center.

Knight said, “So the building’s a full, 365 day of the year used building, but it also serves specifically and it’s designed specifically to weather a storm and then be able to house the people that are going to be there. It’s of course built exceedingly above any standard that we’ve ever built a building to in the history of building buildings in this county. It’s going to be an elevated bunker like we’ve never seen before.”

The building is funded by three grants and a groundbreaking will occur within the next week or two. A groundbreaking ceremony will be held at 10 a.m. on October 18.

Knight pointed out, “The other issue that we had after Irma was our reduction in ability to communicate and then we got cut off from the local municipalities. Most people probably don’t realize that all of your local municipalities like Key West and Marathon and everybody feed up into the county EOC and then the county EOC communicates to the state EOC. So it’s like a tiered system of work and communication.”

The newly constructed EOC will have improvements in communications as well as 48 hours of survivability, including stored water, food and electricity. It can sustain 250 mile an hour winds and has extremely thick walls.

Knight said, “Right now if we can stay on the construction schedule that we have in front of us, which is fairly aggressive, and one of the biggest issues that we’ve had holding up projects, is supply chain. So what we’re doing right now is we’re basically the contractor is submitting everything they can possibly submit to get it approved by the architect and the engineers that it meets the design specifications and then getting it order. So we’re doing a lot of front-load ordering on this project to make sure that we have the materials when we need them so that it doesn’t hold it up. If everything goes according to plan, we’d be looking at February/March of 2024.”

Another project in the works is for Higgs Beach.

Knight said, “We do have a master plan. The master plan was to move the road, to relocate the road, make the parking lots and road safer. We were required to do some additional ground-penetrating radar.”

It remains to be seen when that will happen.

Knight added, “We want to finish Rowell’s, what we’re calling phase one of Rowell’s. We did receive that $3 million grant and so we’re going to be breaking ground hopefully soon on phase two. We could have parallel endeavors going on there at the same time, but we’re really excited with that.”

Sometimes non-construction projects come up and one of the library grants will put holds lockers and 24-hour kiosks around the county.

Knight said, “We just had the wonderful opportunity to make that impact. One in particular on Stock Island at Bernstein Park is an example of if a child can’t get to Key West, how do they get access to the library or how do they get access to materials? It’s kind of cool that they’re going to be able to go online, put in what they need, have it delivered to that either holds locker or part of that collection that’s going to be out there at Bernstein Park and then they can go out there and get whatever they need or whatever they want to check out from the library. It’s able to expand that functionality. So we were excited to be a part of that project and help make that happen as well.”