Remodel for Santa Rosa’s brand-new fire station to cost $183,000

The extensive work on the new $4 million station comes after a city determination that the entire facility needs to meet access standards for people with disabilities.|

Workers began tearing apart the kitchen of Santa Rosa’s brand-new $4 million Fountaingrove fire station Monday in an effort to make it accessible for disabled people who city officials say are unlikely to ever use it.

The $60,000 kitchen remodel is the first of what will ultimately be $183,000 in upgrades aimed at making the Newgate Court station fully compliant with the federal law governing access for disabled people.

The upgrades are the result of months of deliberation over how to deal with the fact that the 5,300-square-foot station was designed, permitted and built under the presumption that only public areas such as the lobby needed to be handicapped accessible.

But after city building inspectors raised accessibility questions, the city concluded that all living areas of the station - the kitchen, weight room, lounge and dorm rooms - needed to be ADA accessible as well.

The reversal has contractors undoing work they completed only months ago.

“It’s really a shame,” said Mike Gentry, president of GCCI, Inc., the Santa Rosa construction company that built Station 5 and is making the changes. “It’s very functional. It’s perfect for the firefighters. It’s a shame we’ve got to go in there and tear it all out.”

The issue prevented firefighters from moving into the station for four months, but they finally did in late August under a temporary occupancy permit. They have since been providing fire protection and medical aid to the northeast area of the city, where slower response times prompted the station’s construction.

The city and the contractor have worked out the changes that need to be made to fully comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and state building codes. The kitchen was the first piece to be tackled because there was some money in the budget for such contingencies. The work is expected to take about a month.

The City Council will be asked to sign off on the other $123,000 worth of upgrades in December, said Jason Nutt, the city’s transportation and public works director.

To date, the city has focused on getting the firefighters into the station and getting it compliant with the law, not in assigning blame for the mess, Nutt said.

“We have not had any conversations about determining who is at fault in the whole situation, if fault were even identified,” Nutt said.

The kitchen work will remove the custom-made butcher-block-top island, which did not leave enough room for someone in a wheelchair to navigate through or use the kitchen. The wall cabinets, sink, dishwasher and counter top are all being removed and reinstalled about two inches lower to comply with similar accessibly requirements.

The city and contractor explored making adjustments to the existing cabinets, but determined it was more cost-effective to just start over, Nutt explained.

Another major change involves the removal of a sliding glass door leading from the exercise room to an exterior patio. The door has a raised threshold that is greater than the half-inch allowed, so it has to be removed. But because of the way it interacts with nearby windows, much of the wall needs to be reframed, Nutt explained. A new set ?of French doors is being installed that has the appropriate threshold. The total cost is $37,169.

Other big-ticket items are the $38,259 in changes needed to two bathrooms. These upgrades will include several changes, from grab bars to toilet stall widths. The remodel will even include changes to the private shower located in the captain’s dorm room.

That change is one that Gentry just can’t get his head around. He said he understands designing a public building to have accessible areas, but “who would’ve thought that they would have been allowed to go into the captain’s shower room?”

Fire Chief Tony Gossner said the public is not going to be allowed to use that shower. But he said he had the same question - why do areas off-limits to the public need to comply with public accessibly laws?

The answer: “A public building built with public funds has to meet all ADA requirements unless it’s a work area,” Gossner explained. “And that’s an interpretation.”

The city, after consulting experts in the field and reviewing case law, concluded that a work area is very narrowly defined. For example, a workbench where firefighters tinker with their gear falls under this exemption.

Other planned changes and costs include:

Two bay doors that are ?31 inches wide but need to be ?32 inches wide, at $24,030.

Removing a 35-inch-high bookcase and reinstalling it an inch lower, at $13,114.

Removing the doors to the laundry and locker room, at $1,787.

The work is expected to take 68 days to complete, said Capt. Keith Flood, who has been overseeing the updates for the Fire Department. On a visit to the station Monday morning, Flood joked with workers as they hacked into drywall in preparation for lowering some kitchen outlets.

The refrigerators and coffee maker had been moved into the dining area and the bookshelves in the day room were filled with pots and pans. He said firefighters are taking the kitchen remodel in stride. They’ll probably grill a few more meals than normal, but otherwise the disruption will be limited, he said.

“In the big picture, it’s a minor inconvenience,” Flood said.

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