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WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 31, 2007
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Fire station bids beyond city's budget

By Chris Paschenko
chris@decaturdaily.com 340-2442

Bids to build three Decatur fire stations are at least $500,000 over budget, and the City Council on Monday could reject them all.

One-fourth of the city's firefighters have been living in mobile homes for the past 45 months. Any delay in construction means a longer wait for safer and more comfortable confines.

Firefighters complained of moldy living quarters at stations on Gordon Drive Southeast and 16th Avenue Southeast, and the city placed mobile homes on the properties.

To fund capital items, the council borrowed $16.2 million in an October general-warrant sale.

The council budgeted $3.9 million to replace the 50-year-old stations.

Gail Busbey, the city's chief financial officer, said Tuesday that the lowest bid among three competitors was $4.4 million. She said city officials are looking at ways to save money on construction despite one added cost.

"The original plan didn't call for a sprinkler system, and that could be up to $100,000," Busbey said. "Some things we're looking at to adjust costs ... which could cut $400,000 to $500,000 off the price."

Trimming expenses

Eliminating some masonry work, shrinking building dimensions and removing an exhaust system for vehicle bays could save the city $115,592, Busbey said. The city could also realize savings by selecting a metal roof over one with shingles.

Councilman Ronny Russell said reasons for rejecting bids are twofold.

"We must do everything we can to keep costs in line with estimates, and our funds are limited," Russell said. "I trust the recommendations of our CFO and council liaison to the fire department."

Living situation

Russell said he is well aware of the firefighters' living situation.

"I was the one who was so adamant last year that we get things moving on the fire stations because the firefighters have been displaced for so long," Russell said.

"Thanks to Gail Busbey's persistent efforts, the project has been moved along since. Had she not pushed so hard, we would not even be this far."

Jeff Fussell, the city's purchasing agent, said the city found out it couldn't afford what it was asking for.

"We either have to award the bid to (the lowest bidder) or rebid," Fussell said. "We can't mint our own money, so we're obliged to rebid."

Busbey said accepting new bids could add two months to the project. City officials have not said how long they expect construction to take.

"We're not happy about rebidding it," Busbey said. "We do want to move ahead and get the firefighters out of trailers and into stations. We're working diligently for that. I'm not happy about the delay."

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