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Third Rohnert Park fire station likely delayed until 2020

A long-awaited third firehouse in Rohnert Park is expected to encounter another delay after all construction bids came back at least $1.5 million over budget, in part because of rising labor costs from the communitywide fire rebuild effort.

Staff is requesting that the City Council reject each of the nine contractor estimates at today’s regular meeting in favor of redesigning the structure designated for the west side of Highway 101. The hope is the private architecture firm working with the city can trim the 6,100-square-foot size by about 1,000 square feet as well as some exterior amenities to cut expenses back to the original $4 million price tag.

The new firehouse set for the corner of an extension of Martin and Labath avenues had been scheduled to break ground this month or next for a spring 2019 opening. A City Council rejection would restart the Planning Commission approval and competitive bidding process on a scaled-back station and would likely push a ribbon-cutting to 2020.

“It’s definitely disheartening to have that happen,” said Rohnert Park Fire Cmdr. Mike Bates. “Before, we were ahead of the curve and there wasn’t a demand for it, and now we’ll be right about that time. We don’t need it now, but it’s on the horizon based on increased call volumes.”

Fire calls have gone up an average of 185 per year since 2013. Already projections show that 2018 will be the Rohnert Park Department of Public Safety’s busiest, with more than 4,700 fire calls, and that capacity is starting to put pressure on firefighter and emergency medical response times, especially on the west side of town.

“It’s not like we’re way out of line or going to be way out of line,” said Don Schwartz, assistant city manager. “We’re within national standards. The fire station will allow us to improve upon our performance, and a delay in the fire station delays that improvement.”

For comparison, the fire department in Petaluma, which serves roughly 15,000 more people than Rohnert Park’s approximately 43,000 residents, has three stations. Petaluma runs just over 6,000 calls per year.

A third station was originally identified as a need in the city’s 2000 general plan. Building it on the other side of Highway 101 is seen as a way to address growth, and have trucks and personnel on both sides of a major traffic corridor that now includes the SMART train nearby.

If there were a significant train accident, it could potentially block life-saving resources from getting from one side of the city to the other for another emergency call, said Public Safety Chief Brian Masterson, who oversees the city’s combined police-fire department.

The location of the new firehouse prevents that possibility.

“There’s probably not a better place you could put it,” said Masterson. “It makes it so we’re not susceptive to having that type of incident occurring. The west side station puts us in strong position to triangulate our services, because right now I have all of my assets on the east side of the city.”

The architect is expected to have amended site plans available for review by October.

A request for updated construction bids could go out as early as November, with an anticipated groundbreaking next spring.

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin Fixler at 707-521-5336 or at kevin.fixler@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @kfixler.

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