Saturday, September 13, 2003

Firehouse price tag growing

Project delays, changes cost Blue Ash $450,000

By Sheila McLaughlin
The Cincinnati Enquirer

BLUE ASH - The price tag on the city's new $6 million fire station on Kenwood Road just jumped about a half million dollars.

Weather delays, staff inexperience and a lack of communication are being blamed for $450,000 in cost overruns since Blue Ash broke ground a year ago on a project that is now four months behind schedule.

That figure includes $116,000 in contract overruns and upgrades and another $153,000 to be paid to Kenwood-based Oswald Co. to continue managing construction, city documents show.

The remainder, city officials said, will be used to equip the firehouse with furniture, kitchen appliances and computers.

That equipment was erroneously left out of the project budget, which is being financed using about $1.5 million in startup money from the city and a bond issue, City Treasurer James Pfeffer said. The additional money will come from reserves in city accounts, he said.

The new station - the city's second firehouse - is being built to cover the city's north end, which has seen considerable growth in the last decade.

If everything goes according to the current plan, it will open in early November.

"Had we all communicated better and planned better, we would have borrowed the money we needed," Pfeffer said.

"I don't think anybody was an idiot here. We weren't going to compromise. We could have brought this project in at budget, and our fire service would have had to live with cuts in quality or perhaps in its usefulness forever. That is not logical."

An inclement winter and rainy spring and summer also created "significant" delays, because the ground was so muddy that workers and equipment couldn't get to the site some days, City Manager Marvin Thompson said.

City officials said problems surfaced in June after the resignation of then-Deputy City Manager Bruce Henry, who was overseeing the project with design input from Fire Chief James Fehr.

"We realized there were some things that needed to be clarified," Councilman Jim Sumner said.

Council allocated the additional money at its meeting this week, but Sumner said he wants to make sure the city is spending wisely.

"One of my concerns was that we were getting a facility that met the needs of the fire service, not just paying for additional architect fees and building facility things that didn't contribute to the mission."

The situation prompted Thompson to assign a team of city department heads to coordinate the project and create a full-time position for a project manager, which was filled from within.

"Lesson learned," Thompson said. "We now have a process that pretty much guarantees that these things will not happen again."

Pfeffer blames much of the trouble on a general lack of experience by city officials, who last coordinated a major construction project when the recreation center was built in 1993.

"It was considered almost routine," Pfeffer said of the project. "We had an excellent architect. We had a construction manager. We were building a quality facility. What could go wrong?"


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