Investing in the Safety of a Growing Salida – by Ark Valley Voice Staff

City council reviews plans for new fire station

On November 14, the Salida City Council reviewed a presentation of the proposed 20,000-square-foot Salida Fire Station at 611 Oak Street. The presentation included an overview of the health, safety, productivity and energy-saving features of the building and site concept.

While the current estimate of $15,350,000 may seem large for a small town, council members heard that every aspect of the structure and location has a planned rationale. With the growth that Salida and the South Arkansas Fire Protection District have experienced, it seems time to address the shortcomings of the 120-year-old firehouse.

A brief history of the new fire station

Doug Bess, Salida fire chief, noted that when he first became chief 10 years ago, he knew then that the 1902 firehouse at 124 E Street had been put together too long to be (re)remodeled. His message; the health, safety and morale of the growing number of firefighters were affected.

(In fact, in 1902 that same year the fire station was built, the Ohio and Colorado Smelting Company built a smelter about a mile from town, and the population was about 2,000.)

The need came up again during the annual budget process for 2017-2019 and was included in the Capital Improvement Program at the time. A formal needs assessment was conducted in October 2020 and presented to the Board on 9 December 2020.

After a thorough review of competing proposals, in May 2022 councilors selected Neenan Archistruction of Ft. Collins, Colorado as the design-build company for the station. Importantly, the new station has a dual safety focus; it will house both Salida Fire and the South Arkansas Fire Protection District.

Neenan team goes through plans preceded by Ark Valley Voice

Preliminary Concept, New Salida Fire Station Façade 611 Oak Street. Source reference Neenan Architecture

Introduced by Vice President Donna Smith, the Neenan team walked through the conceptual floor plan, floor plan, initial cost estimate and a proposed schedule.

Architect Seth Clark indicated the different zones for each function and also spoke about the orientation of the building; designed to maximize natural daylight while reducing energy costs and assisting with snowmelt. He noted that safe traffic flow, public and staff parking and efficient use of the land plot were also considered, as well as future space for a potential “live-fire” training area. (The state of Colorado may provide a grant to build such a structure on a future concrete slab.)

Clark also discussed using low-maintenance, long-lived red brick and metal accents to achieve a “classic” firehouse look and character, a nod to the historic buildings in downtown Salida. Clark said the design’s functionality and aesthetics are the result of an all-day collaborative design process session that put functional needs first. On the same day in June 2022, stakeholders reviewed a collection of other recent fire station designs, indicating their preferences and why they made their choices.

The firehouse design team pointed out that they had been working to align the building envelope and systems with the Salida Climate Action Plan. The building will be ready for solar panels with up to 60 kW of electricity (but not solar powered initially). It will be designed according to the 2018 Energy Code (Chaffee County is currently working on the 2006 Energy Code standard). Neenan further plans to include as many elements of the latest energy code (2021) as practical.

Schedule and costs

Preconstruction Manager/Chief Estimator Tim Stern reviewed a draft diagram with half a dozen large “swimlanes”, summarizing the details of a proposed 220-line diagram; a construction swimlane beginning in March 2023 and running through April 2024, which the public will observe as the schedule progresses.

Members of the Salida City Council are about to start meeting. (From left to right) are Jane Templeton, Harald Kasper, Dominique Naccarato, Mayor Dan Shore, Mayor Pro Tem Justin Critelli, and Alisa Pappenfort. Not shown: Mike Pollock, who is present virtually. AVV staff photo

A critical path of that schedule is the “procurement of items with a long lead time” swimlane. Some items have a lead time of 52 weeks and must be selected, dimensioned, fully specified and ordered immediately so that they arrive and are installed when construction requires. These include a generator (which will provide backup power for most of the facility to be fully functional), the electrical panels and key mechanical/HVAC system components.

Stern then defined the “Schedule of Values” (key cost categories) in the preliminary budget for the project, with the largest single element being the HVAC system. Current costs come from select partners, largely based in the Front Range and San Luis Valley; Pueblo and Colorado Springs with some local participation.

“Total budget, $15,350,000 … really tentative now … as we go forward, we’ll get this validated with real numbers and get real subs and bids from some of the smaller transactions,” Stern said. The number includes Neenan’s fee, a seven percent contingency fee ($1 million), a performance guarantee, and project insurance; all required elements.

Questions asked and answered

The Neenan team responded to some requests for details from city manager Drew Nelson, as well as questions from elected officials. Continuing the energy-saving theme, architect Clark explained more about the geothermal wells on the east side of the property and how they would provide underfloor heating in the equipment room. No natural gas is supplied to the site, so electricity will power the controls and lighting. A variable refrigerant flow (VRF) system and heat exchangers provide temperature control.

Members of the Salida Fire Department pause for a group photo after giving a presentation describing their different roles at the Salida City Council working session on Jan. 7, 2019. AVV file photo.

The advanced mechanical/HVAC system is pegged at a premium of approximately $800,000 over a “conventional” gas/boiler system; however, it is expected to pay for itself in the long run and avoid any state or local mandates against natural gas use that are already taking effect.

Nelson spoke about some of the efforts the team has made at their bi-weekly meetings to keep costs under control. These include evaluating numerous HVAC systems, slightly shrinking the bays (which will still accommodate future, larger platforms), and passive snowmelt versus a powered system.

Councilor Harald Kasper said he appreciated the thoughtfulness and energy efficiency, but had questions about cost comparisons with other commercial structures and their cost per square foot. Stern said the actual cost for recently built firehouses is about $600-650 or more per square foot (twice that of general construction). “What is in this building that is not in a typical commercial structure? — almost anything,” Stern said. “Redundant electrical and HVAC systems, a scale designed for more than 30 years, across the board, cost more.”

Could the final costs look different, Kasper asked. “Yes,” Stern said.

City manager Nelson countered that conservative numbers have been used and that they will know more once the geothermal well fields are sized. He added that the city will look for grant opportunities that could reduce the numbers. Once actual bid requests are made, competition will help, but inflation and schedule delays can also increase costs.

Treasurer Merrell Bergin asked for more details about the cost and reliability of the geothermal HVAC system. Stern explained the general concept and said these are widely used in other cold climates. (Nelson noted that Gunnison County uses them throughout the area.) “The system will be very energy efficient in the summer and relatively comparable to traditional systems in the winter,” Stern said. “There is also built-in redundancy in geothermal energy. If one well or one pump fails, you still have a system.”

Mayor Shore then asked Tihonovich, Salida’s chief financial officer, to address the financing issues. Tihonovich said the city will have to issue debt to fund it. “Approximately $1.1 million a year in debt service will need to be built into the operating budget for at least 20 years. We will work with Ehlers (the city’s financial adviser) to come up with a debt issuance structure, likely a certificate of participation, she said. Tihonovich stressed “this does not require it to be taken to a vote of the people … we do not expect higher taxes for this and our debt burden is quite low at the moment,” she added.

Next steps

Harald Kasper asked for a list of items responsible to the owner and what they might cost. Nelson said they were developing such a list and would come back with numbers to help determine the overall cost of the project.

Nelson also agreed that a cost model showing the payback period for the geothermal system could help Councilor Alisa Pappenfort answer questions she gets from the public about total life cycle costs, in addition to the “sticker price”.

Refining cost estimates, creating construction drawings and researching a 10-year financing plan are among the next steps. Neenan Vice President Donna Smith concluded by saying they would come back in February 2023 with a contract, final numbers and an energy cost modeling report.

With broad support from members of the council and the mayor, the discussion was ended and the council members suspended.

Featured Image: Members of the Salida City Council (left to right) Jane Templeton, Harald Kasper, Dominique Naccarato, Mayor Dan Shore, Justin Critelli, and Alisa Pappenfort are pictured during a November 2022 work session. Not shown, but Councilor is virtually present Mike Pollock. AVV Staff photo

Leave a Reply