Council to vote on $5.91 million Central Fire Station bid

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Neil Johnson
March 21, 2015

JANESVILLE—The Janesville City Council will be asked Monday to approve a contract for the Central Fire Station project that officials say is within the $9 million spending limit the council set last year.     

The council, which is back at a full seven members, is slated to vote on a staff recommendation to award a winning, $5.91-million construction bid by contractor Gilbank Construction of Clinton to build the 31,500-square-foot fire station along Milton Avenue.

Overall, costs for the station, including construction, property acquisition and project designs and consulting are projected to fall within the council's $9 million spending limit, according to contract bids and a city memo.

That's even under a set of alternate project plans the city is recommending the council approve Monday, including the addition of an eighth fire truck bay—a feature the city earlier had considered knocking out to save costs on the new station.

The city also wants to add the demolition of the current fire station next door to the contract. That work could be bid as part of the project as early as next year. That work would be done as soon the new fire station is move-in ready, according to city officials.

The city had thought earlier about putting that work on hold, because it threatened to create a cost overrun, but that work now fits within the project budget, said city Engineer Mike Payne.

An agreement with the contractor for the city to directly purchase $1.7 million in construction materials, would eliminate some sales tax costs, and would save $96,000.

Payne said the contractor is ready to start work on the new station April 13, with a targeted move-in date for crews and the department's central command in June 2016.

The project would cost the owner of a $120,000 home and additional $10.26 per year on their city tax bill for each of the next 10 years, according to city estimates.

Over the last 16 months, planning for the Central Fire Station has led city officials, project planners, city council members and an ad hoc committee through a minefield of public dissent, residential property buyouts, questionable closed city meetings, close financial scrutiny, cost cutting and legal challenges led by opponents who have circulated petitions and brought a lawsuit to try to halt the project.

Resident Billy McCoy successfully mounted two direct legislation petitions—one that sought to freeze the fire station project pending a voter referendum on the station location and cost. Another effort sought to force voter referendums to approve all city projects that cost more than $2 million.

The city council declined last year to act on the petitions. McCoy filed a lawsuit last year in Rock County Court that seeks to compel the city to freeze the fire station project, and to place both his petitions on a ballot.

The city is asking the court dismiss McCoy's lawsuit. The case is set for a hearing April 17—four days after the fire station project is slated to break ground.

Meanwhile, the city is recommending demolition of the yellow, historic Mansard roof home at 327 Milton Ave. if no one moves it by April 13.

It's the lone property left among a dozen homes along Milton and Prospect avenues that the city bought last year and began removing from the project site.

The city had spent $1.47 million on acquiring the homes and relocating residents, and it had offered the homes to anyone who wanted to pay to move them. Some of the houses have been moved by private buyers, others were burned by the fire department in training exercises.

One person, Fred Harmon, has offered to move the home at 327 Milton Ave., but Harmon wants $38,500 in city money to pay for utility costs for the move, according to a city memo. Department of Public Works Director Paul Woodard is recommending the council deny the request Monday.

Woodard wrote in the memo that Harmon wants to move the house to a nearby lot at 721 E. Milwaukee St., but Harmon would need to buy part of an adjacent lot at 344 Milton Ave. to fit the two-story house on the lot. 

Harmon hasn't been able to close on a loan to buy the Milton Avenue lot, but he says he could by March 30, and could move the house within two weeks of that date, according to the memo.

He's asking for $30,500 more than the city had initially offered to help move the property, and the city estimates it could cost Harmon at least $40,000 to move the house. Woodard said work on the fire station cannot be delayed, pending removal.

The property, which the city bought out of foreclosure from the Federal National Mortgage Association for $68,000, is on the National Register of Historic Places, but the State Historical Society has signed off on the city demolishing it if it can't be moved.

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