Final Plans, Cost of New Firehouse Reviewed; Completion Is Expected by End of Next Year

27 September, 1989

Final Plans, Cost of New Firehouse Reviewed; Completion Is Expected by End of Next Year

Barbara L. Johnson

Township Committee and Borough Council met in joint session last week to review the architect’s final plans and cost estimates for the new firehouse.

Two possible timetables for bidding and construction were presented. One projects a completed firehouse by January, 1991; the other, which involves going out to bid before the final approval is received from the State Department of Community Affairs, projects completion by November 30, 1990.

The new firehouse will be built on Witherspoon Street on tlfe parking lot beside the Township municipal offices in the former Valley Road school building. It will replace Mercer Engine Company No.3’s Chambers Street firehouse in the Borough — a difficult location to get in and out of nowadays. As the first firehouse in the Township, it is also intended to provide fire protection to areas of the Township that have built up rapidly in the last few years.

Ever since the 1985 Shand Report, which called for the replacement of the Chambers Street firehouse with a firehouse in the Township, the presumption has been that the Chambers Street facility would be sold and the proceeds us, ed to build the new firehouse. However, Borough Councilwoman Jane Terpstra, who is the Borough Public Works Commissioner, said at the joint meeting last week that the Borough may not sell the building after all but may wish to keep it as a municipally owned building for purposes which she did not specify.

She added, “That would be up to Borough Council, to sell it or find some other way to raise the money” to pay the Borough share. An agreement of sorts exists as to how the funding would be worked out between the Borough — which technically owns the Chamber Street building — and the Township which will own the land on which the firehouse will be built, once an agreed-to land swap with the Board of Education is finalized.

The funding agreement was developed by members of the Ad Hoc Committee appointed by joint Borough/Township resolution in late 1988 to select an architect and move the firehouse along. It appears that neither Borough Council nor Township Committee have formally approved the agreement, although Borough Council did approve a capital bond ordinance in the amount of 81.3 million for the firehouse.

Under the agreement, spelled out in a letter from Kate Litvack to Mark Freda last February and in a memo from Mark Gordon to James Pascale. up to 81.3 million of the proceeds of the sale of the Chamber Street firehouse would go to pay the cost of the firehouse. The $1.3 million fig-ure was the architect’s estimate at the time of what the new firehouse would cost.

Any proceeds above 81.3 million would be placed in a fund to finance future capital needs of the Fire Department. with the understanding that the funds would be jointly shared on a rateable basis. The memo also states that should the cost of the new firehouse exceed the proceeds, these costs would be shared on a rateable basis.

Estimate of $1.6 Million. The architect’s most recent estimate of construction costs comes to $1.6 million, to which is added $22,000 for he dryers and kitchen and bar equipment, and $269,220 in non-construction “soft” costs — fees, permits and an on-site construction inspector for the 43 weeks construction is estimated to take: The total comes to S1.9 million, without furnishings or communications equipment. According to Mr. Freda, Mercer Engine Company No. 3 expects to use its existing furniture and furnishings and gradually accumulate additional items that will be needed.

The new firehouse has been designed, as Mr. Freda put it, “to suit the needs of volunteers today but also to suit the needs of a paid department in the future.- Men’s and women’s bunk rooms are planned on the second floor, along with separate shower facilities, an exercise room and’ n office. Among the items to be added in the future are the bunk beds for the bunk rooms.

There was discussion at the meeting last week of public use of the new facility. A large (30 feet by 56 feet) recreation room is shown on the first floor plan. with a bar at one end, television and fireplace at the other, and an adjoining kitchen. Above it is an equally large meeting room which the architect calls “the spiritual center” of the company.

It will house the formal portraits, awards, memorials and trophies that the company has accumulated over its long history. The room will be set up according to company tradition with the existing oriental rugs and chairs arranged at the perimeter for official company meetings.

Open to the Public? Township Committeeman Leonard Godfrey asked whether the public would be allowed to use this room as well as the first floor room. “My feeling is if it is paid for by taxpayers it should be open to the public,” Mr. Godfrey said. Firemen and the architect pointed out the tradition of keeping the social/recreational functions separate from other company activities, and noted that the design reflects that tradition.

“Part of the purpose of this building,” Mr. Freda said, “is to preserve and enhance a volunteer fire company. What we’ve done is duplicate the rooms in the existing firehouse and added some amenities.” Mr. Freda made it clear that the public rooms are on the first floor and allowing the public access to the second floor is not something he or other members of the Fire Department would like to see happen in any of the firehouses.

“What we’re building is a firehouse, not a community center,” Township Mayor Phyllis Marchand interjected soothingly, tiling to move the discussion along. Talk turned to the costs of the building.

“This [$1.9 million] is a little high,” Mr. Poole said. “Higher than we thought. What can we do to make sure it won’t go higher?” Tom Fulmer of Fulmer & Wolfe said that the architects would be preparing a list of alternatives to be bid along with the base bid: One alternative, Bill Wolfe suggested. would be substituting a different floor finish than the terrazzo that is proposed. The committee could decide when the bids came in whether to go to an alternate or stick with the original.

Mrs. Litvack suggested that the architects work up a short list of alternatives.

The architects expect to complete the construction documents on November 30 and will file them with the Department of Community Affairs on that date. The architects have had some preliminary review of the plans, Mr. Wolfe said, and have satisfied two requests for changes. However, he is allowing two months, to February 1, for DCA approval of the construction documents.

Inviting Bids. In this scenario, that date for inviting bids would be would be February 5. Allowing a month for receiving bids and another week for awarding a contract, construction could begin mid-March and be completed early January, 1991. Construction could be pushed up two months if bids were to be invited December 15 of this year, before final approval is received from the DCA.

The risk in this approach, Mr. Wolfe noted, lies in getting a list of required changes from the DCA which could boost the cost of the contract. Change-orders are never cost efficient, he added. “I would rather be safe than sorry,” Mayor Marchand remarked.

Borough and Township officials were inclined to agree with her, although it had been tempting to think of moving up the date on which this long-awaited firehouse would be reality.

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