By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: Oct. 5, 2017 | 12:00 p.m.
Supervisors commit $1.6 million from fund balance to cover extra costs
PRINCE GEORGE – During an over half-hour discussion, supervisors opted to accept the recommendation of public safety officials and move forward with the full build of a new fire station along Route 10 while committing up to $1.6 million from the county’s fund balance to cover the additional costs tied to the project’s construction.
The decision was made during the Prince George Board of Supervisors meeting last week where officials with HBA Architecture Interior Design presented their designs for the new fire station, both a full build and vehicle bays only option, to leaders and members of the community while joined by Prince George Fire and EMS Director Brad Owens and Burrowsville Fire Chief John Nicol.
The station would be built at the intersection of Route 10 and Moody Road, with the entrance to the facility connecting to Moody. During their presentation, HBA representatives gave a detailed look at the full build and bays only design for the new station, using both a floor plan and 3D model to give a true idea of how the building would look upon completion.
The most noticeable difference between the two buildings was the size. According to Mike Winter and David Smith with HBA, the bays only option, which would have seen only two full vehicle double bays and a dayroom built during the first phase, would’ve been approximately 5,400-square feet in size upon completion. This is in contrast to the full build plan, which would feature three full double bays, living and sleeping quarters and other fire station needs inside a 10,300-square foot building.
The architectural firm noted, no matter the option supervisors went with, the facility would be a “pre-engineered building” with brick accents on the front of the building and the walls, particularly the ones around the vehicle bays, being insulated and heated.
The two different options on the table at the time for supervisors, a phased approach that would see the vehicle bays built first then the living quarters built at a later time and the non-phased option where the entire facility would be built at one time, presented two different price tags that led to their decision to move forward with preparing to go to bid on the full design.
According to HBA estimates, Phase 1 of the two-phase plan would cost roughly $1.6 million, which includes building and site design and construction, fire station equipment, furniture and utility tap fees, such as electricity, phone, and cable services.
When discussing the second phase HBA representatives noted that the cost of building the second phase could rise depending on inflation and other costs over the course of time between completion of the first phase and second.
Presently, the total estimated cost of the station is approximately $2.6 million if it is done in an unphased manner.
According to HBA’s data, if the project is done in a phased approach, it would cost the county roughly $2.7 million and, if the second phase is completed between the next five to ten years, that total cost could rise to nearly $3.1 million in ten years given the current pace of inflation.
Board Chairman Bill Robertson and other members of the board admitted the number tied to the complete station build is well above what they had borrowed to handle the complete architectural, engineering and construction costs of the Route 10 station. According to county documents, during the 2015 and 2017 debt issuance, the county borrowed $500,000 during the two periods for a combined total of $1 million for the new station.
The land for the new site was acquired in May of 2016 and some surveying and site work was done at a total cost of $52,692.84. As of June 2017, the project had roughly $947,000 in funds available for the station’s completion.
Even with the phased approach, Phase 1 with the vehicle bays only option would have been over the county’s allocated funds for the project, with the unphased method costing approximately $1.6 million more than budgeted.
That, paired with the request from both Owens and Nicol to go with the full build option brought about the discussion of how to finance the additional cost, which resulted in board members agreeing unanimously to use up to $1.6 million of the county’s fund balance from the 2017 financial year to help cover those costs instead of borrowing additional funds during a future debt issuance.
“From an operations standpoint, the bays only option limits station operations,” Owens explained. “We ask that you consider the full station project and we understand those are high estimates but we think we can get those trimmed down.”
“While the project’s estimated costs look high, we wanted to make sure everything was in place,” Chief Nicol said. “We looked at other options and visited other jurisdictions and it’s our recommendation to go with the full station so we can plan for the future and meet our growth needs.”
Speaking to Nicol’s point regarding visiting neighboring jurisdictions, Chairman Robertson asked if they had visited nearby Ford in Dinwiddie County and their new fire station, noting this new station along Route 10 would be “$1 million more” than theirs even though they are fairly similar in terms of design.
According to both Nicol and Owens, the reason for the lower cost is tied to the economic downturn that was in place when the station was built, noting that the station was built “at 47 percent” of its budget and that they had more than 60 people take part in pre-bid.
“Their cost estimates were around $3 million and, as Chief Nicol said, the station was built when the economy declined so people were looking for work and it was built for roughly $1.6 million,” Owens remarked. “Unless that happens again, that won’t happen here.”
While last week’s meeting wasn’t a formal public hearing, Chairman Robertson did open the floor to comments from residents to garner their thoughts on how they suggest the board move in terms of using going with either the full build or bays only options.
“There is a lot of open property in that area, but I know there will be houses there at some point and if we have that fire station built there with today’s costs and funds, we will be pleased,” resident Lillian Boyd remarked.
“We need the whole thing,” Ben Woodford said simply. “It’s a positive move for Prince George County.”
Leading up to the motion to move forward with bidding the full build option, Robertson admitted the price tag was “way more than he intended to see,” but, “There is a major population center there in that area so, as much as I don’t like spending that amount of money, I don’t see where we have a choice.”
Once the station opens, Chief Nicol said the county’s new recruitment and retention coordinator will be working to get more volunteers and they are completely committed to filling the station with plenty of volunteer firefighters.
“There are about 1,917 homeowners in that area that will be positively impacted by this project,” Owens said, noting decreased response times and reduced homeowner’s insurance premiums as an added benefit of the project upon completion.
The county will now prepare a request for proposals to garner bids for the full construction of the new fire station.