Story last updated at 3:10 p.m. Thursday, October 10, 2002

McNeil firehall back to drawing board
by Chris Bernard
Staff Writer

Last week's Kachemak Emergency Service Area board meeting resembled nothing if not a discount store, with prices being slashed left and right.

At the meeting, a representative of the Anchorage architectural firm Bezek, Durst, Seiser unveiled the plan for the proposed McNeil Canyon firehall. The cost estimate came in higher than expected.

So board members began slashing away at what chairman Scott Cunningham called "fluff."

In the end, they'd cut almost $800,000 from the $1.4 million proposal.

"We slashed his plans and sent him back to try again," Cunningham said. "All we want is a 64-foot-by-64-foot prefab metal building. His plan was more than twice what we were thinking -- well more than twice what we were thinking."

"It did seem high," said architect Scott Worthington, "but I think the reason for that is, we're starting with a raw piece of land. All the utilities have to be brought in to the building, and the site development cost and the additional mechanical things that go along with a fire station add to the cost."

Plans call for the firehall to be built on a 5-acre piece of borough-donated land on East End Road, near McNeil Canyon Elementary School.

Cunningham said the board's directive was for a no-frills building to house the equipment.

"All we wanted was a heated, metal building to store our equipment in," he said. "That's all. No fluff."

Among the proposal's features that board members vetoed were a paved apron surrounding the building; a large, paved parking lot; and light towers.

"We also cut a lot of the stuff they were going to furnish the building with," he said. "We did away with a workbench they wanted $6,800 for. Give us some two-by-fours and some plywood and we'll build a workbench for $200."

Another way in which the board cut costs was by reducing the number of bay doors from six to three, he said.

"We can stack the equipment two deep, and prioritize it," Cunningham said. "Those doors cost about $5,000 apiece. If we just rough in those other doors and cover them up, we can put them in later if we need them. That also saves us money because we don't need to develop behind the building, we don't have to deal with leveling and grading and all that."

Worthington said that though the building is "institutional" in nature, the plans call for a few touches to make it more residential.

"We want to help it fit the character of the neighborhood out there," he said. "We've had to make some tough decisions about the things we wanted in there, but I think now we're going to be able to bring it in for a bit more palatable cost."

Despite the board's willingness to sacrifice form for function, Cunningham said, some of the costs were unavoidable.

"There's also roughly $400,000 in labor in the plan," he said. That's due in part to the borough's requirements for public contracts for buildings that fixes labor wages at union scale. "It's $400,000 for what we could probably get done for about $200,000 if we weren't tied down by the borough's rules."

The plans for the firehall have been in the works since KESA was formed about two years ago, he said. As the group's stable of equipment grows, the need for a place to house it increases as well.

Currently, that stable includes an ambulance and two mountable units for pickup truck beds; a Federal Emergency Management Administration fire truck on order that should be available by December; two Forestry-donated brush trucks available on loan in the spring; and an appropriation for a fast-attack truck.

KESA has about $300,000 for the firehall, Cunningham said. "Having that money will make it easier for us to pursue other grants," he said. "By next year, we hope to hit the ground running."

The five-person board asked the architects to rework the plans based on the cost-cutting feedback produced at last week's meeting.

"It will be a couple of weeks at least before we see new plans," Cunningham said. "Nobody, least of all the board, is going to tolerate that kind of a price tag, even though there are fire stations all over the state going up that cost that much, it's not what we want to do.

"All we want is a simple building, with no fluff," he said. "But $1.4 million? That's ludicrous."

Chris Bernard can be reached at cbernard@homer