More than two years after city officials broke ground on a new fire station on Airline Road, the future Fire Station 4 for Columbus Fire and Rescue sits empty.
The building, a 10,000 square-foot facility a mile west of the city’s current Fire Station 4, was originally scheduled to be completed either in late 2017 or early 2018. Construction began in mid-2016, but work on the station came to a halt earlier this year after city officials learned the plans for the building’s interior — including electrical, heating and air conditioning work — were going to be more expensive than initially expected, CFR Chief Martin Andrews said.
“We have to get the plans redrawn or refitted — our electrical, our HVAC, some of the plumbing, not all of it — but we had to get it redrawn to specs so we would be able to bid it out at a cheaper rate,” Andrews said.
“It’s been a long project,” he added.
Andrews said the city paid $28,000 for the initial plans, which were designed by Biloxi-based engineering firm Machado Patano. It wasn’t until it was time for the city to bid out the electrical and HVAC work early this year that interested companies pointed out the city could complete various projects — from interior lighting to the air conditioning unit — for significantly cheaper.
Mayor Robert Smith said redrawing the plans could save about $375,000.
“(The previous designer) made a Rolls Royce, the top of the line, when you could get, say, a Chevrolet and it would do the same thing,” Smith said. “In other words, you had really expensive heating and cooling and all. It was a way to where the redesign of the electrical (work) would probably save about $125,000 and the heating and cooling would probably save about $250,000.”
The delay is frustrating, he said, but worth it to save that much money.
The city secured a $700,000 capital improvement loan from the Mississippi Development Authority to build the station, with any additional funds coming from the city’s $500,000 insurance rebate. Andrews said building the station would cost a maximum of about $1 million.
Local businessman and engineer Ralph McLain, who owns Teletec and has worked on small projects for the city before, agreed to redraw the interior designs at no cost to the city, but they haven’t been completed.
Though Andrews said he understands McLain is in the “final stages” of redrawing the plans, Smith asked him two weeks ago if they could offer to payment to McLain — though he said he didn’t have a ballpark in mind — in hopes of getting the plans done a little sooner.
“You pay for what you get,” Smith said. “I’m not saying anything negative — I think the world of Ralph. But Ralph’s doing this pro bono. What do you expect when he has other business too? That’s why I asked the chief … to talk to Mr. McLain and say, ‘Let us pay you, so we can move forward on this project.'”
He said he hopes the new plans will be completed early next year and for the facility to be move-in ready by June.
McLain did not respond to calls from The Dispatch by press time.
A new station
The city’s current Fire Station 4, located at the intersection of Airline and South McCrary Roads, was built in 1960, making it the oldest of the city’s stations. At 3,200 square feet, it’s less than a third the size of the new building and is too small to fit the custom-ordered $500,000 fire truck the city has designs to purchase next year.
The new station will house not only that truck, but one of CFR’s medical vehicles and the administrative team, which is currently spread between three different buildings in the city, Andrews said. He also hopes it can help improve the department’s rating from the Mississippi State Rating Bureau, which rates fire departments on scales from 1-10, with 10 being the worst.
Earlier this month, CFR’s rating moved from a Class 4 to a Class 3, placing CFR among the five-highest rated fire departments in the state. When the new station is completed, Andrews said, it will improve firefighters’ response times to calls just off Highway 69. He hopes when the Rating Bureau comes back in five years, the improved response time will help push the city to a Class 2.
The better a fire department’s rating, the lower home insurance costs are for residents protected by that department.
“As long as (the station’s) a work in progress, they’re fine with it because they can actually see what we’re doing,” Andrews said. “They understand the shortfalls that we have gotten to now but they understand we’re working through everything. Most cities in the United States are financially strapped to some point.”
About $400,000 worth of work has been completed on the station so far. CFR firefighters have also done some construction work on a volunteer basis, he said.
“We have firefighters that can do many different trades, but the biggest thing we’ve had in this instance was they did all the framing of the inside of the station, which is a tremendous savings,” Andrews said. “They will be able to do little things like paint and put on doorknobs, hanging some doors and stuff like that. But the larger stuff like the wiring, the HVAC, we’re going to still have to bid it out.”
Firefighters and construction crews from J5 Broaddus, the city’s project management firm, completed the building’s basic structure about 10 months ago, Andrews said.
“They’ve done everything they can do up until now,” he said. “So what we’re waiting on now is to get the plans redrawn so we can get out there and we can bid the electrical and the HVAC system.”
Smith said time is of the essence.
“It’s not like we don’t have a station,” Smith added. “The station that they’re in is just antiquated and outdated. … So the sooner the better.”
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