Figures released this week show the proposed new Minocqua fire station coming in at a much higher cost than Minocqua officials had expected.
Preliminary costs are now estimated at $3.4 million, hundreds of thousands of dollars more than earlier entertained. “We are very happy with the space needs program,” said Fire Chief Andy Petrowski at the joint meeting Tuesday, Aug. 30th of the town board and the ad hoc fire department building committee. “We are not happy with the total dollars. It’s a rather mind boggling jump (from earlier estimates).” But the fire chief cautioned about cutting the size of the proposed building as it meets all their present and future needs. “Building less of a building now so we can provide a little bit less dollar figure to the public to make it palatable for them is absolutely going to cost a lot more money down the road,” Petrowski continued. “Now you folks may not be in office and there may not be the same taxpayers living here.
But it’s going to be expensive down the road to add on. Additions are 1.5 times as expensive as to build from scratch. Supervisor Bill Fried said he is in agreement with getting the building that best suits the needs of the fire department. “But obviously the cost is putting a hiccup in your throat. I’m wondering how do we move forward from here. How do I sell it to the public?”
The committee will meet next Tuesday morning (Sept. 6) to whittle costs from the project put forth by MSA Professional Services of Baraboo. The town board that afternoon will meet with the committee just prior to its regular 6 p.m. board meeting. From there, the matter likely goes to a special town meeting of the electorate for a vote. There doesn’t appear to be much the committee can do further to reduce the interior space; some 600 square feet had been cut from a July 28 design submission of the one-story masonry building. The committee next Tuesday could trade the whittling knife for a larger one: namely, opting for a pre-engineered steel frame building versus the $3.4 million masonry building. That could reduce the cost by at least a couple hundred thousand dollars, according to Public Works Director Mark Pertile. “We are not going to be proud of a metal building,” said Supervisor Bryan Jennings. “I don’t want to see metal building,” echoed Supervisor Sue Heil. “We need to make it something that we are proud of.”
By speakerphone MSA representative Al Szymanski pointed out that a metal building is not as airtight or water tight as a masonry building. But he agreed that a metal building would be cheaper by a 5-10 percent margin over a masonry building. Eliminating all masonry would lower that cost even more, he added. Town Chairman Mark Hartzheim said the town board remains focused on keeping the town property tax rate low. He noted that there is a major road project looming on the horizon. “My biggest concern is minimizing the effect on taxpayers,” he said. “We have to go back to a metal building with a decorative front entrance,” he said. Doing so would be in keeping with the type of private construction on the Highway 51 South corridor. “The number one priority (of the design) is functionality.”
The $3.4 million figure is also an estimate by the architectural firm. If the project goes to bid, the final cost could be lower. But Szymanski wasn’t optimistic of that outcome. He believes bids would likely come in at the level they gave, or perhaps five percent less at the most. “The economy has sparked back to life,” he said, explaining that building contractors are not as “hungry” for work as they were a few years ago. When the economy was in the doldrums, construction companies were willing to pare profits to the minimum just to keep their crews busy. “Contractors are incredibly busy,” he said of the current situation. Cost of materials has also risen in the past few years. The building as outlined is 14,500 square feet; about half dedicated to the apparatus garage. The finish area includes front office and radio dispatch, offices for fire chief and assistant chief, training room, historic display area, day room, kitchen, toilets, fitness room, workshop and mechanical room. MSA pegged building construction costs at $165 per square foot for the garage area and $225 per square foot for the finished area. Pertile said the site preparation costs – blacktop, sewer and water service – is built into those two figures. MSA also listed $282,685 for architectural design and bidding; $27,863 for construction services, $6,000 for soil boring and geotech and $283,168 for contingencies. Soft costs – such as for furniture, paging system, kitchen equipment – would total about $14,000. But the room designated as a historical display area caught the eye of Supervisor Bryon Jennings, who questioned the need for it when the overall building cost is so high. Based on finished square footage cost, it adds about $168,000 to the project cost. Petrowski replied that the volunteer firefighters anticipated the resistance and voted to pay for the room through fundraising efforts, if necessary. “We run 300 kids through our station each year for fire prevention and education,” he said.
Last year, voters approved the town’s purchase of land just south of the Island of Minocqua for the new fire station at a cost of $375,000. The current fire station in the downtown has numerous shortcomings, including not enough space to house equipment and apparatus. The Minocqua Fire Department serves the entire township, an area of 170 square miles. Volunteers also staff fire station #2 in the Bo-Di-Lac area.