Rohnert Park seeks to move forward with plans for first west-side fire station

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Rohnert Park is moving forward with plans to add its first firehouse on the city’s fast-growing western side of Highway 101, but the project is now far costlier than officials once envisioned, even for a downsized facility.

The city estimates it will now have to spend an additional $2 million, bringing the total tentative cost, including construction and design, to $7.7 million for Rohnert Park’s long-desired third fire station, slated for the corner of Martin and Labath avenues, west of Costco.

The new figure is about $2.2 million more than the lowest construction bid rejected a year ago by the City Council, when it directed staff to scale back the design, further delaying a project first conceived about two decades ago.

“In hindsight, it’s easy to say that construction costs are higher than when we went to bid, and at the time we thought it might be a temporary spike and then drop back down and normalize,” said City Manager Darrin Jenkins. “That’s the thing, you can’t predict the future. They didn’t come back down. They continued to go up for a number of reasons.”

He cited as underlying factors the shortage of labor and rising material costs fueled in part by tariffs.

The station is set to house a new ladder truck to assist with fighting larger structure fires, and has an aim of improving response times throughout Rohnert Park.

The city initially budgeted $4 million for construction of a 6,100-square-foot station. The goal was to keep the total cost to $5.45 million, including design and project management.

A request for bids on the project went out shortly after the October 2017 fires, which did not hit Rohnert Park. But rising construction costs throughout the region in the disaster’s wake have weighed down the station project, officials said.

The lowest returned bid came in at $5.5 million just for construction, an amount that Mary Grace Pawson, the city’s director of development services, called “outrageous.” She acknowledged that previous projections of construction and design costs were overly optimistic.

“Our timing was just horrible the first time we bid the project,” Pawson said Wednesday. “We’re still in a tight construction market where everybody in the county is paying more. But that was an outrageous price and we were not going to pay that construction cost.”

The City Council rejected all nine bids and directed staff to downsize the facility by roughly 1,000 square feet and scrap some amenities.

The new 4,300-square-foot redesign dropped the number of bedrooms from four to three. It also eliminated a second office and an on-duty gym. The moves are expected to drop construction costs alone closer to the initial $4 million target. But with the additional design work, plus project management, city staff estimates the total cost will come to $7.67 million — $2.2 million over the previous overall price tag.

Under a cost-sharing deal with the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, owners of the nearby Graton Resort & Casino, the tribe will contribute $3.55 million toward the new firehouse. For its share, the city will tap $2 million accrued from other guaranteed payments made by the tribe to the city to offset casino impacts, as well as about $2.1 million from a public facilities fund.

The city may also look for some savings by moving its public works department onto the 3-acre fire station parcel, allowing dual use of a planned diesel fueling station and generator. The public works buildings now sit on land the city has agreed to sell and vacate to make way for a future downtown development.

City staff said they hope to receive approval from the Planning Commission in June, before putting the fire station project back out for bids.

Building permit approvals could come by November, with construction underway by next spring.

“We should have had fire service over there from the very beginning,” said Mayor Gina Belforte. “If we were to have something tremendous, not necessarily a wildfire but maybe an earthquake, getting over to those residents would be problematic, quite frankly. Now that we’re finally getting it, it’s a huge day for Rohnert Park.”

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

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