With a nudge, council moves firehouse plan forward

Mayor’s call for action heeded by aldermen who agree to seek design proposals for $5 million facility
Ozaukee Press staff

After months of debate, the Port Washington Common Council on Tuesday agreed to seek proposals from architectural firms to design a new fire station and renovate the existing firehouse.

Aldermen voted 6-1, with Ald. Mike Gasper dissenting, to send out a request for proposals after Mayor Marty Becker, a former member of the Police and Fire Commission and a proponent of the new fire station, said he would not accept any more delays.

“We are going to vote on this tonight or we will be here forever,” Becker told the Common Council as the discussion opened.

The request for proposals is expected to be sent out later this week, and proposals are expected to be returned to the city in early December, Ald. Dan Benning, a member of the fire station taskforce, said. The council would then select a firm to design a firehouse in early to mid-January.

The request for proposals specifies that the new station be built on three to five acres of the former Schanen farm on Highway 33, which is owned by the city, “or similar property in the general vicinity.”

The proposed station should be 15,000 to 20,000 square feet and include six drive-through apparatus bays, a training area, eight dorm rooms, male and female locker facilities, a secure emergency medical services supply room, a workout facility, kitchen and lounge, conference room and a training or meeting room that could double as a community room.

The proposal to renovate the current fire station at 104 W. Washington St. calls for dorm rooms, separate male and female locker rooms and a workout facility to be created. The parking and entrances should be updated and the windows, doors and garage doors modified to be energy efficient, and the fire detection and suppression systems expanded.

The requests for proposals calls for architectural and engineering firms to submit a schematic design as well as detailed design plans and bidding and construction documents. The firm should also be prepared to provided bidding and construction administration services, including site inspections.

“I’m still concerned we’re getting ahead of ourselves,” Gasper said, noting the city hasn’t determined where on the former Schanen farm the station would be located, how it would access Highway 33 or whether sewer services would be available.

“We really should have the site locked down,” Gasper said. Otherwise, he said, there may need to be so many changes that the costs will increase significantly or the plan that the design firm comes up with may be useless.

The lack of firm data may also limit the field of companies willing to submit proposals, he added.

“We should have our ducks in a row before we bring an architect in on this,” Gasper said.

Benning, however, said that the specifications were compiled using studies done for former Fire Chief Marc Eernisse and relied on the expertise of current Chief Mark Mitchell.

The work done by the design firms will help the city determine if the features the city has outlined are what’s truly needed and, more importantly, if the $5 million cost estimate is accurate, Benning said.

“We’re not committing to anything right now,” he added. “We’re getting proposals.”

Ald. Jonathan Pleitner concurred, saying the requested firehouse features is “an exhaustive list.”

“I look forward to getting a number. I’m curious if we see a little bit of sticker shock,” he said. “Let’s move forward and see where we’re at.”

Ald. Paul Neumyer supported the request for proposals to get things moving, but said he has major concerns.

“I think this is going to spring out of control,” he said. 

The construction cost isn’t the only impact a new station will have, he added, noting that the city will be on the hook for maintaining two firehouses.

“I don’t see how we’re going to maintain two buildings,” he said. “Times are tight.”

Becker said Saukville pays about $1,000 a month to maintain its fire station, a cost he believes would be comparable to Port’s new firehouse.

But Gasper disagreed, saying the cost will likely be higher. If a study is done and the city seeks construction bids, he said, he would not support it unless the council holds a referendum to increase the city’s levy limits to pay to maintain the facilities.

Ald. Pat Tearney said he, too, is concerned about the potential cost and impact on future city budgets, as well as the impact of possible changes in area fire departments, but favored moving ahead to find out what the pricetag will be.

“I am concerned about the cost,” Ald. Deb Postl added. “Unless we move forward, we won’t know where we are.” 

“If it comes in way, way high, we may have to cut things,” Becker said, and if the city’s estimate proves low “we may get a Cadillac.”

Ald. John Sigwart noted that the new station won’t be a satellite facility as originally thought but instead a headquarters for the department, and reiterated that he would like to see the city build a facility that can expanded to meet its needs for 50 years, not necessarily built for 50 years initially.

A city review team is expected to review the proposals, after which the city would negotiate a contract with the winning firm to clarify the scope of services and cost. 

On the advice of City Administrator Mark Grams, aldermen agreed to have the Common Council interview the winning firm before the contract is awarded.


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