SANTA ROSA BEACH — South Walton Fire District broke ground Monday afternoon for its new 17,980-square-foot training center that will be constructed behind its Station 3 firehouse.

The three-story building will have offices, storage space and a vehicle maintenance facility. A separate four-story training tower will also be built.

The major development will be a phased approach that will enable maintenance and training vital to the Fire District's ongoing plan, officials said.

Classrooms and offices will be on the first floor with bulk storage on the second. The third floor was added for future growth.

"We don't know how we have operated this long without this," said South Walton Fire Chief Rick Talbert.

The design has been worked on since 2008.

The new facility will allow mechanics to maintain vehicles on location and firefighters to practice in a model of a three-story home, which are prevalent in the community.

"A lot of features and thought have gone into this," said Talbert. "This protects the southern part of Walton County."

The new building will be located west of the existing fire station at 911 North County Road 393.

A ribbon cutting is expected in October on the $6-$7 million building, which is being paid for by residential and commercial new growth impact fees.

"I'm very excited about this and proud and excited for our men and women. This has been a goal of ours," said Talbert. "Having this facility will allow us to train our men and women at our own facility."

SWFD was established in 1983.