North Stonington firehouse cost put at $8.3 million as panel OKs plan that's $2 million more than what voters approved

North Stonington - The Emergency Services Building Committee on Monday approved an approximately $8.3 million plan for a new building, about $2 million more than what voters approved for the project last year.

Committee Chairman Mark Perkins was quick to point out that the additional cost does not mean that the committee has added expensive new features - or, in fact, any new features at all.

"We are in no way building the Taj Mahal," said Perkins after Monday's meeting.

Part of the problem, he said, is that the original plan was priced during a recession and building costs have gone up. The newest project is for a significantly smaller building than the one originally proposed: The $6.3 million was supposed to cover 24,000 square feet, and the committee said they didn't think they could go below 19,000 square feet when cutting costs.

The current proposal is 19,240 square feet - and getting to that number "was not easy at all," said Perkins.

He said excavation costs are mostly to blame for driving up the cost. The site chosen for new building at 25 Rocky Hollow Road, just across the street from the fire company's current location, lies on a hill that would need considerable sculpting to make a flat space for construction.

The site costs are "astronomical" and could end up costing half a million dollars in trucking alone, said Perkins.

There's really nowhere else the building can go, he said. Moving the building along Route 2 in either direction, said Perkins, and the firetrucks will be too far from outlying communities.

When the cost estimates came back so high, the committee considered two options presented by architecture and engineering firm Silver/Petrucelli - Scheme A, which was approved Monday after being presented to the selectmen last week, and Scheme B, a building in the same location with a slightly reduced cost.

The selectmen seemed to need time to mull things over, said Perkins, and told the committee to select whichever scheme they felt was most appropriate.

Perkins said Scheme B would save, at most, $200,000, and "the negatives seem to greatly outweigh the positives." The rest of the committee, which voted unanimously with Scheme A, seemed to agree.

Scheme B would level the top of the hill rather than excavating an area like Plan A, placing the building 28 feet above Route 2 with parking lots and driveways at a high grade. Perkins sees too much potential for accidents in that plan.

If the plan is reduced any further, there is no guarantee the department will be able to function currently, let alone for the additional 30 years that the building is supposed to last, he said.

They've already cut down on meeting rooms and offices, and reorganized changing facilities and bunks to make them primarily unisex, saving space but still provide privacy for female workers.

"We're just running out of places to cut at this point," said Perkins.

He's not sure what happens when a project like this comes in significantly overbudget, and believes it may have to go back to residents to approve additional money. The committee is planning to have an estimator review the plans, but Perkins doesn't think that will make a significant difference.

But he hopes residents will still be supportive of their emergency personnel, who are in desperate need of facility upgrades. They've been trying to improve them since the early 2000s, when a $3.1 million plan to address the same issues was shot down.

"We have to do this new building in order to go into 2014," said Perkins. "Unfortunately, we're not in the days of farmers throwing on three-quarter boots and heading to fires anymore."


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