Plan for new Idaho fire station rejected after contractor's estimate tops $7.7M
Lewiston city council members promised to seek an alternative to the upgrade that was supposed to improve response times and firefighters' working conditions
By Elaine Williams
LEWISTON, Idaho — The idea of a new fire station in the Lewiston Orchards was shelved Monday by the Lewiston City Council after the estimate for the project rose about $1.5 million in about a year.
The council unanimously rejected proceeding with the next phase of a contract with CORE West, the general contractor for the project, now estimated at in excess of $7.7 million for design and construction.
"This is just the right decision for our taxpayers and that's the way we have to go," said Council President Hannah Liedkie.
At the same time, city councilors promised to seek an alternative to the upgrade that was intended to improve emergency response times and working conditions for firefighters.
The action came at a meeting where the council also heard an update about irrigation restrictions imposed while the city repairs one of its largest reservoirs.
Overall the ban on automated irrigation for most city of Lewiston water customers is working so well that neighborhoods such as the Elks Addition could see some loosening in coming weeks, said Public Works Director Dustin Johnson.
The city's finances were a key consideration in the fire station decision.
One of the biggest reasons the cost of the proposed fire station rose so dramatically was that numerous local contractors are working on the replacement of the Nez Perce County Courthouse, said Lewiston Fire Chief Travis Myklebust outside the meeting.
That means the contractors that might bid on the new fire station at Fifth Street and Bryden Avenue would be from places such as Boise that are farther away, which escalates prices, he said.
The cost of mechanical portions of the fire station, which includes heating, air conditioning and ventilation, for example, increased by almost $700,000, Myklebust said.
Under the council's decision, CORE and subcontractors would be paid for tasks already completed close to $400,000, part of a total of about $950,000 the city has spent for expenses such as buying the land and traffic studies, he said.
If the lot were sold and the new fire station were built somewhere else, it would more than cover that outlay of money, Myklebust said.
One of the reasons the Fifth and Bryden location was selected was it improved response times to the Elks Addition and tree streets such as Juniper, Cypress and Pine near North 40 Outfitters.
A high concentration of emergencies happens in the "tree street" area because it has independent and assisted living communities for seniors, Myklebust said.
That same goal could be achieved if the station were located near the airport, as a number of citizens have suggested to avoid adding congestion to the already busy intersection at Fifth and Bryden, he said.
The new station was also going to have places where firefighters can clean their everyday uniforms and the heavy-duty pants and jackets they wear to battle blazes.
The absence of a laundry area at the present facility increases firefighters' exposure to the carcinogens they encounter fighting fires, and biological contaminants such as blood, vomit and fecal material.
A more robust exhaust system and the new station would funnel diesel fumes from fire engines and ambulances outside, reducing risks from diesel soot, one of the leading causes of cancer in firefighters, Myklebust has said.
While the city wrestles with how to allocate resources to improve the fire department, it's also faced with spending as much as $3 million to fix the High Reservoir southeast of 16th Avenue and 29th Street. It has been disconnected from the rest of its water infrastructure since it failed in January.
Until the work of repairing a gap in the reservoir wall, installing a liner, removing a broken roof and replacing it with a floating lid is finished in July, most city of Lewiston water users are required to water their lawns manually.
Since the restrictions took effect a week ago, demand has declined significantly for the three wells temporarily serving customers that would typically get their water from the failed reservoir, Johnson said.
In the next 10 days, the city will gather additional data and see if it's possible to relax the rules in some neighborhoods in the southern part of the community, he said.
The city can remotely identify who is breaking the rules through the data its system collects, but hasn't yet done a tally of the number of violators, Johnson said.
"I am really encouraged with how the community has bought into what we are doing," he said.
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