Needs, Not Wants, Drive Slimmed-Down Fire Station 2 Plan: Over-$1MM Drops to $300K
At their meeting last night, the members of the Board of Selectmen approved a revised plan for the renovation of First Station 2, the shape of which is much different than it was when the Building Committee began putting the plan together three years ago.
Town facilities director Chris Burney as well as fire commissioners Ross Tartell and Chris Weldon were on hand to present the revised Statement of Requirements (SOR) for the proposal, which has an estimated price tag of between $250,000 and $300,000. That amount is significantly lower than the over-$1 million projected costs the project had before the BOS asked the building committee to revise the scope in August 2018.
Getting to a finalized Statement of Requirements wasn’t disagreement-free, as town officials pushed the committee to be more critical in examining what was truly needed to renovate the 70-plus year old building. For instance, Fire Chief Ron Kanterman had long-wanted renovations to create a larger building to accommodate housing more than two firefighters at the town’s auxiliary location in north Wilton; fire commissioners and First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice eventually concluded that safety and protection could be sufficiently maintained without increasing current staffing levels.
Weldon addressed this with the BOS last night.
“Yes, the fire chief did bring up what his likes would be, but once we got into it we realized, while we would like to have all those things if budget would allow it, it would be extra and not something we were required to have up at that station. I think we came to a general consensus that we don’t need to have six people up at that station. It’s not been utilized that way. Very, very few times do we have four people at that station. There are things we can do more efficiently and more within budget constraints to make that fire station last a lot longer than it already has, and continue to last. We don’t have to go to the size and extent that was proposed in the 2000 SORs.”
One of the most debated questions was whether the building–built in the late 1950s–could accommodate modern-sized equipment. Over the three years there have been various ideas proposed to address the question of whether the garage bay doors needed to be changed–either by raising the roof, cutting larger openings or potentially even lowering the floor. Because fire vehicles can be customized when they are ordered, officials eventually decided that such major changes weren’t necessary.
Burney said even if equipment needs change in the future, there are make-do options to consider if and when that would be the case.
Tartell said discussions the committee had about what was needed and what wasn’t were protracted and sometimes involved much debate, but that the fire commission is “comfortable” with what it was now recommending in the pared-down SOR.
“It wasn’t easy to get here, and what we want is what’s the best for the town. There are things we traded off–space, storage, a decontamination unit that will be in the main fire house, some of the security things–we wanted a vestibule for when people come in. Those were trade-offs that we made, that we felt were very appropriate, but they were difficult discussions,” he said.
Tartell added, “When you balance the benefits and the world we’re looking at very carefully, the quality of life for the people who have to live there, the firefighters who are there 24/7, the operational effectiveness, and to be cost effective, this is where we ended up.”
The new SOR outlines changes and renovations that will be able to be completed over time–something not everyone wanted, but again, something the committee eventually agreed on. Building Committee chair Rich McCarty cautioned against doing the project “piecemeal,” and that a higher contingency should be built into the plan, because given the age of the building unexpected problems might arise once work had begun.
When selectwoman Deb McFadden asked whether it wouldn’t be better to approach the renovation as “a big project” rather than piecemeal, Burney said that $25,000 had been budgeted for contingencies, and that the plan he’d mapped out to sequence the improvements over two years was appropriate. He suggested thinking of the project in smaller terms, and that the bulk of the work is repair and maintenance needs similar to what needs to be done for any home.
“This is really a small house with a big garage.” he said, adding, “When we’re finished with this, you’ll walk in the building and it will look new–every single surface will be replaced, the furniture will be replaced, the electrical will be repaired, the heating systems will be replaced, the air conditioning will be replaced, half of the windows already have been replaced, the other half will be, new doors, new security system. It will be as good as it can be, it just won’t have more space than it has now, except where the water tanks come out. Everyone will be happy with this. I don’t have concerns about getting this done in a logical way. I’m comfortable with how we can make it happen.”
In his statement to the BOS, Tartell initially said the reduced SOR was motivated by a desire to spend less. “The Statement of Requirements has been reworked basically to fit the funding needs of the town.”
Vanderslice countered that budget constraints didn’t force the town to revise its plan, but that looking at what was really needed for the station was the driver.
“I don’t know that it’s fair to say that this is being changed because of funding; this is being changed because some of the initial assumptions were found to be different than what we really need. It wasn’t that we don’t have the money to spend, it was also that we don’t have the need we thought we had before. One basic requirement to raise the roof–that was no longer required because we don’t have to raise the roof to change the doors. The other assumption was we needed to build for six [people], and that’s been investigated–we’re not going to put another ambulance there, we’re not expanding the size of the fire department, the police dept. does not need to put staff there, and DPW do not need to put staff there. Those are all things the fire commission investigated as part of your work,” she said.
Weldon added that Wilton is lucky to have a second station, something that neighboring New Canaan, with similar geography doesn’t have. “They have one station in the center of town. All their trucks leave from the same position. We’re better off–we have a 750 gallon pumper in north Wilton to start off, and we can bring up the 2,500 gallon tanker if it’s needed. We’re a little ahead of the game from surrounding towns, we’re I think in good shape.”
He added that he lives in north Wilton and said he’d like to see the “best we can have in north Wilton–and I think this is the best we could have, with the confines we can live with.”
Selectman Josh Cole gave his assessment, saying, “There’s wants and there’s needs, and we’ve narrowed down what has to be done to protect safety and preserve the building.”
How BOS Plans to Fund
The roughly $250,000-$300,000 in costs to renovate will come from savings and operating capital expenses–not bonding.
Vanderslice said that the BOS will seek to allocate some of the savings from this year to put toward Fire Station 2 renovations, as it makes requests for certain aspects of the work moving forward. Of the total cost, $75,000 is part of the FY2020 budget as an operating capital line item, which still needs to be approved by the Board of Finance, and eventually town residents at this year’s Annual Town Meeting in May.