DUNEDIN — The good news: Dunedin is finally getting a replacement firehouse.
The bad news: Even after rejecting original contractor bids because they came in a half-million dollars too high, the new station will still cost the city roughly $400,000 more than architects originally estimated.
All the convoluted math, budget transfers and project scope switcheroos concerning the fire station and other city projects led to lots of confusion this month among city commissioners, who unanimously awarded what will ultimately be a $1.95 million construction contract to CRS Building of St. Petersburg.
The city hopes to break ground by late June. Pinellas County will contribute 13 percent of cost.
"For market conditions," said city engineer Tom Burke, "this is a good price."
Officials have been pushing to replace Station No. 61 — the oldest of the city's three fire stations — since at least 2000, when the first of two city assessments determined the 40-year-old building was obsolete.
Reports said the 4,679-square-foot station, inside Highlander Park on Ed Eckert Drive off Michigan Boulevard, is too small, sits in a flood zone, lacks sprinkler and lightning protection systems, likely wouldn't withstand a hurricane and is at a blind intersection that is often blocked by cars for special park events.
Designs for an environmentally friendly, 7,500-square-foot station, to be built closer to the park's Michigan Boulevard entrance and adjacent homes, feature large windows to let in natural light and a $100,000 glass-walled showroom to house a Sept. 11 memorial and an antique fire truck.
Based on estimates by Bergmann Associates of Jacksonville and Wannemacher Jensen of St. Petersburg, commissioners in 2012 set aside $1.5 million of their healthy general fund reserves for construction. The city had hoped to break ground in January and wrap up by this summer.
However, during the winter, higher-than-expected bids prompted commissioners to follow City Manager Rob DiSpirito's advice to send the project back to the drawing board.
Even after working with designers to swap out a few building materials and then relaunching the bid process, the lowest of 14 bids came in at $2,028,770. The city's staff says CRS has tentatively agreed to additional changes that will lower the price by $75,000 to about $1.95 million. The final price tag might be even lower if CRS can avoid using the $25,000 contingency built into the contract for unexpected expenses.
"During the course of the year and a half or so from the time (architects) did the design to the time the bids went out, the cost of construction did go up," DiSpirito told commissioners during their May 16 meeting.
Other factors that increased the price: reluctance of contractors to lower prices in this improving economy, cost differences between Dunedin and the region where the original estimate was made, and additions to the project, such as an upgraded vehicle exhaust system.
Trying to figure out the actual cost and how the city will pay for it, though, led to nearly 40 minutes of confusion among city leaders, who had earlier in their meeting approved $3 million in budget amendments — part of it to cover the increased firehouse costs.
Planning for the 2014 budget year, which starts Oct. 1, will include talks about whether the city should finance the firehouse via cash or a loan.
Keyonna Summers can be reached at (727) 445-4153 or [email protected] To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.