Ceremony to mark completion of new No. 1 firehouse

By MIKE ANTHONY

A ribbon-cutting ceremony to mark the completion of the Mehlville Fire Protection District’s new No. 1 firehouse at 3241 Lemay Ferry Road will take place at 9 a.m. Tuesday, Feb. 28, Chief Jim Silvernail announced last week.

During a Feb. 16 meeting of the district’s Board of Directors, Silvernail also said an open house would be conducted at the new firehouse in May. A specific date has not yet been scheduled, he said.

The new No. 1 firehouse across the street from Mehl-ville Senior High School replaces the old No. 1 house at 7409 S. Lindbergh Blvd. The Missouri Department of Transportation paid the district $1.15 million for the purchase of the old No. 1 firehouse property as part of MoDOT’s road-widening project at the intersection of Lindbergh Boulevard and Lemay Ferry Road.

Silvernail provided board members with a breakdown of the costs of the new firehouse, saying the actual cost to taxpayers was less than $600,000.

“Some costs may be incomplete, however, this should include about 99 percent of the cost,” the chief said. “The actual overage from change order No. 2, $9,299, represents a 1 percent overage. The average overage on commercial buildings is between 5 and 8 percent. Change order No. 1 included the adding on to the apparatus room and steel to the north wall for the possible addition of a third bay. I do not consider this an overage due to the fact it was in the original bid price and then taken out.”

The chief said the project went very well, considering that after construction began two new board members — Chairman Aaron Hilmer and Treasurer Bonnie Stegman — were elected and two employees who were overseeing the project retired. Assistant Chief John Schicke retired first and then Deputy Chief Tony Rolfes retired.

Assistant Chief Steve Mossotti and Deputy Chief James Hampton began their oversight of the project last August.

Employees spent their first night in the new station on Feb. 14, Silvernail said.

“There will be a few purchases that will need to be made to complete the engine house. New fold-down wall beds will be put out to bid and purchased,” he said.

Noting the district received $1.15 million from MoDOT for the old firehouse, he said, “I might say that was a heck of a bargain because if we were to sell that property there was no way you would have gotten that much money for that house at that location.”

Silvernail’s breakdown noted the original low bid for the building was $1.314 million, which was submitted by Dar-Beck Inc. However, the board asked Dickinson Hussman Architects to seek value engineering suggestions from the low bidders and then allowed all 13 bidders to submit new proposals based on those ideas. The board then awarded the building bid to Hof Construction for $1,099,466 — $214.534 less than the original low bid.

The property for the new firehouse cost $232,705. Other costs for the project were: architect, $95,217; other design fees, $57,277; miscellaneous costs, including traffic lights and a traffic study, $99,168; change order No. 1, including adding on to the apparatus room plus add-on steel for an eventual third bay, using an existing generator and soil remediation; $128,788; and change order No. 2, $9,299.

The cost of the land, building and miscellaneous expenses totaled $1,721,920, Silvernail said, noting the total cost of the building minus the property, was $1,489,215. Subtract-ing the $1.15 million the district received from MoDOT from the total cost of $1,721,920, Silvernail said, “The total building cost to the taxpayer came out to $571,920.”

He added, “If we would have rebuilt house No. 1 somewhere else, we would have got maybe $300,000 for the property there. The building would not have been worth anything. That building was over 50 years old. So to replace a fire station at a cost to the district — and a nice station — for $571,000 is really unheard of. I think they did very well. I really have my hat off to Assistant Chief Mossotti and Deputy Chief Hampton for taking this over, and I will tell you John Schicke and Tony Rolfes also did an excellent job on this. So I think we really came out pretty good.

“As far as the overage of 1 percent, that’s really unheard of. I can tell you at most of the fire departments around, the overages are anywhere from 10 to 30 percent. I think we came out really well on it. As far as the soil remediation, you hate to have that kind of cost come up, but it’s down here. It’s something that’s going to happen, and I wish we could just say, hey, this is going to be all right … It’s just something that you can’t forecast. It’s almost impossible. Even with that, I think we came out very well,” Silvernail said.

During a period for public comment, Mehlville School District School/Community Relations Director Patrick Wal-lace criticized Hilmer, one of the leaders of No Account-ability, No on A, a committee that opposed the school district’s 97-cent tax-rate increase that was defeated by voters on Feb. 7. Wallace also had questions about the cost of the new firehouse.

Wallace said, “I happen to work for the Mehlville School District, but I want to make it very clear that I’m here tonight to talk myself as a resident and not as an employee of the Mehlville School District. Are we clear on that?”

Hilmer said, “As long as it pertains to the fire district.”

Wallace said, “That’s what it’s going to pertain to.”

Hilmer said, “Lay it out.”

Wallace said, “All right. I have a couple of things I want to talk about. First off, as a taxpayer and as a resident of this fire district, I’m very disappointed that the chairman of this fire board would lead a campaign against the children of our community. I think that’s unforgivable.

“Secondly, the fire district board chairman, yourself who has to talk a lot about accountability and mismanagement when directed at the school district, I’d like to know why you and your fellow board members continue to accept payments for board meetings when Board of Education members do not get paid a penny,” he continued. “You talk a lot about accountability. I think you’d set a standard if you would refuse to accept payment, and I looked at your minutes and found that you accepted payments ever since you’ve been on board.

“And lastly, tonight the chief gave some numbers, quite a few different numbers, about firehouse No. 1. I took time off during my lunch hour to go through some of the minutes of the fire board over the last couple of years, and the only budget I could find in those minutes and perhaps there’s somewhere that I didn’t see, but the only budget I found in the minutes that I read was of Nov. 22nd of 2004 there was a budget approved for $1,099,466 for firehouse No. 1. Tonight the chief reported numbers of 1.7 million, 1.48 million, 1-million-99 (thousand), $500,000. I’m not exactly sure what numbers you’re going on for the cost of firehouse No. 1, but I’m looking at $1.7 million, and the only budget that I saw that was in minutes that I read, and again if I missed the amount I stand corrected, was Nov. 22 that was 1,099,466, which would put your house at about 70 percent over budget.

“And you made a lot of noise, Mr. Hilmer, about the school board being 30 percent over budget on their building construction, but I’d just like some answers about where this 1.7 (million) came from. Thank you,” Wallace concluded.

Asked about the budget, Silvernail later told the Call, “I think the biggest thing on the cost of 1 house, I don’t know exactly — totally — what was in the budget due to the fact that I came much later …”

But he noted that the $1,099,466 was the bid price to build the firehouse, not the entire budget for the project.

“My concern was that price of the building and to keep any overruns down at that point,” Silvernail said. “The only thing that I did when I looked at the plans at first I felt that the apparatus room was totally unacceptable — 50-something feet and a fire truck’s almost 50 feet. So you’re trying to cram everything into a little shoe box. So I felt it that needed to be at least 75 feet … and I wanted to put that steel in the wall there so that if (in the future) they decide to go to a third bay, they don’t have to tear the engine room down to do it — and you’re saving lots of money. And that’s looking at the future because these stations need to be built for 30 or 40 years …”

The chief said, “I’m not here to build Taj Mahals. I’m here to give a service to the community with a very decent place for the firefighters to live. I mean this is their home. They’re there 24 hours a day. But again, it’s not a luxury place by any means.”

He also said, “You know what I think is neat about this? We built this firehouse without a bond issue or tax increase. There was no additional cost to the citizens of this community to build a new firehouse and there’s not too many places that can do that.”