Officials striving to keep public safety project within budget

By Michelle Edelbaum
Observer staff

Town officials and contractors are working hard to keep the cost of the new police and fire stations within budget.

It’s a difficult time for the project because those involved are scrutinizing everything in the plans to make sure that the buildings come in on budget, said Alan Brown, a project manager/architect at Dore and Whittier.

“The project is over budget and we’re working to bring it back under budget,” Brown said.

“It’s always going to be a struggle; on every project it’s a struggle to stay within the budget,” said Town Manager Rick McGuire. “This project will come in on budget, but the budget is tight.”

McGuire and Brown said that it’s normal to wrestle with unexpected costs during a project’s preliminary stages. The budget for the public safety project is $6.8 million; voters approved $6.3 million in bond funding last year. The remaining $500,000 will come from the municipal budget reserves.

Complicating the effort to keep costs down are projected price increases for building materials because of Hurricane Katrina and changes in state building codes.

“It is better to be doing this now than later,” Brown said. “Otherwise you would go out to bid and find out that you’re over budget. Now we’re doing it before we finish design. We don’t have to spend a lot of time designing something that we can’t afford.”

Everything would be considered when figuring out how to stay within budget, including structural materials, exterior and interior design and mechanical systems, said project manager Tom Barden of Barden Consulting and Design Services.

“There are probably thousands of things that will get cut out in this process,” McGuire said. “Our goal is to maintain the facilities that serve the program goals of each department and end up with quality construction so that you’re not sacrificing quality.”

For example, choices will include whether the structure of the building should be steel, wood, concrete or a combination of materials, Barden said. Also under consideration are using slate or shingles on the roof and using masonry or concrete clapboard siding on the exterior.

The new fire station will be built on the former Mahan property on U.S. Route 2, land now owned by the town. Demolition of farm buildings on the site could occur as early as Sept. 29, said Public Works Director Neil Boyden. The Williston Fire Department is doing chainsaw training on the site and may do fire training in October.

The new police station will be built at the current fire station location next to Town Hall in Williston Village. The town had originally planned to convert the fire station into a police facility.

But it has since been decided to instead demolish the existing fire station and build a police station from the ground up. The change is expected to save $224,000.

Williston Police Chief Ozzie Glidden said other changes to the police station plans include moving a bathroom to reduce plumbing and using painted concrete floors instead of carpet in some areas. A carport was scrapped because it would be too expensive.

Nothing that addresses a functional need has been cut, McGuire said. Some areas had to be scaled back, but were not eliminated, said Fire Chief Ken Morton. For example, the area where the fire trucks are parked was moved to save space.

Morton is hoping that the overall design of the building will not be compromised.

“We designed a building that meets our needs and we don’t want to give up any of it,” said Morton. “We designed a functional building, not a frivolous building. We need to and expect that we will be able to keep it within the budget.”

McGuire said the project would stay on budget, even if it meant scaling back plans.

Lucas Jenson, chairman of the Public Safety Building Committee, said that the planned multiple uses in the fire station, such as the training and community meeting spaces, are appealing. “I would hate to see something like that disappear,” Jenson said.

The project needs approvals from the town’s Historic Preservation Committee, the Design Advisory committee, and the Development Review Board. The project also needs to win approval under the state’s Act 250 land-use law.

Brown said the design team would make decisions within the next several weeks and arrive at a final plan. Barden said that the project is still on schedule.

The design phase will end this month and construction design will begin in October, he said. The project is slated to go to bid in January, subcontractors will be selected in February and construction will begin in May.