The New Public Safety Building

The New Police and Fire Department Building is a Modern Marvel

If you have any doubt that the top priority of our municipality is the safety of its residents, look no further than the new headquarters for the Coral Gables Police and Fire departments. This handsome, $68 million, five-story building is a marvel in functional ingenuity, and arguably the most advanced structure of its kind in the state of Florida. 

The new Public Safety Building, as it is called, houses not just police and fire, but also the city’s 911 call center, its Emergency Operations Command Center, its IT department, its communications department, and the server-farm backbone of the government’s computer network. All of it is backed up by a massive generator that is, itself, backed up by another massive generator. It is a building designed to withstand the most powerful hurricanes on earth – or any other natural disaster short of nuclear holocaust. 

The power supply is backed up by a generator, which is backed up by another generator.

The building was inaugurated last month, in a ceremony attended by the city’s political and business leaders, with a formal color guard marching into the courtyard entrance at Salzedo Street and Minorca Avenue, bagpipes blaring. Officers of the twin police and fire forces never looked more sharply dressed or polished. But it’s what’s inside the new building that is really impressive. Each floor houses its own array of state-of-the-art facilities and gear. On the fifth floor, for example, are a series of training rooms. One holds vehicle simulators. Another is used for hand-to-hand combat training. Another holds a modern 25-yard firing range. 

The fourth floor houses the city’s 911 call center and its Emergency Operations Command Center, where key personnel from the Gables and neighboring communities can gather during disasters to coordinate rescue and recovery efforts. Next to both is the CCTV, the command center tele-video room, which looks like the deck of the Starship Enterprise. Here an array of 17 screens monitor the commercial areas of the city, up-linking a small army of cameras stationed at key intersections. 

New Public Safety Building
Monitors show live footage from security cameras throughout the city.

The more muscular work of daily police and fire activity occurs on the lower floors. On the third floor (which also houses the computer servers) are offices for the IT department, the squad room, detectives, victim advocates and supervising officers, as well as a gym, lockers and showers. The second floor is where police vehicles park, and where the holding cells are for people just arrested. On the first floor is Fire House 1, “the pride of Coral Gables.” This is where the city’s shiny red fire trucks and emergency vehicles are housed, along with a huge room where the firefighters hang out while on call. Here there is a long conference table, a kind of home theater area for instructional videos, a pool table, a foosball table and a massive kitchen. Everything is on the ground floor, so no slide-down pole is required. 

Beyond the individual functions of its different floors, the building itself is a marvel. The ceilings for the first floor are towering at 18 feet, in order to accommodate emergency vehicles. This makes the large conference room on the ground floor feel like an auditorium. There is floor to ceiling glass here, and large windows everywhere, all of them bullet and hurricane proof, so natural light floods the hallways and offices. This is in stark contrast to the former police, IT and fire headquarters at Salzedo Street and Sevilla Avenue, a “brutalist” style building of solid concrete walls that also leaked when it rained. 

New Public Safety Building inauguration
The Coral Gables Fire Department at the inauguration of the Public Safety Building last month.

The need to replace the old headquarters building has been a priority for years, but it finally got underway in earnest three years ago, when then-Assistant City Manager Peter Iglesias – an experienced and well-regarded civil engineer – and city architect Ernesto Pino (also a structural engineer) assembled a team of experts to determine just what the building needed to meet the current and future needs of the city’s police and fire departments. That process took the better part of a year, and then construction began in February of 2019.

In many ways, the building is a testament to the dogged determination of Iglesias, who became city manager that same year and was determined to finish on time and within budget. “We had a very tight timeline, with penalties if we exceeded that time. And then we had a year with civil unrest, tropical storms and the pandemic,” says Iglesias. “When you have a pandemic, you can’t do things normally, pushing it forward when you are losing carpenters and electricians to the virus. But we managed it well, and we were able to work as a team.”

The occupants of the new facility could not be more pleased. “The difference between what we have now and what we had is incredible,” says Police Chief Ed Hudak. “This building is for the next few generations. The technology alone is what we’ve always needed and wanted, and now we have it… and it’s the strongest building, structurally, that the city has ever built.” 

City Manager Peter Iglesias with the renderings of the Public Safety Building.