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Wheeling, W.V., Trims $1M From Budget to Build New Fire Department HQ

Wed May 11, 2022 - Northeast Edition
The Intelligencer

This conceptual rendering shows the exterior design of the new Wheeling Fire Department Headquarters, which is planned for construction at a site on 17th Street in East Wheeling. (M&G Architects and Engineers rendering)
This conceptual rendering shows the exterior design of the new Wheeling Fire Department Headquarters, which is planned for construction at a site on 17th Street in East Wheeling. (M&G Architects and Engineers rendering)

The Wheeling City Council in West Virginia met briefly May 9 to hear a first reading of an ordinance to agree to a $9 million contract for construction of the city's new fire department headquarters.

The action comes after Wheeling leaders announced earlier in May that bids for the long-awaited project came in higher than expected. Since then, city officials have been working with the low bidder and the project engineer — M&G Architects and Engineers of Wheeling — to trim approximately $1 million in construction costs from the project to keep it within budget.

A second and final reading on the ordinance is expected to follow a vote to approve the contract during the next city council meeting on May 17, the Intelligencer in Wheeling reported May 10.

The ordinance will authorize Wheeling City Manager Robert Herron to spend $9 million with PCS &build, a Cleveland general contractor, for the construction of the new Wheeling Fire Department headquarters.

The building is expected to be constructed on property the city acquired last year along 17th Street in East Wheeling.

Department Cuts HQ Costs Without Changing Functionality

Fire Chief Jim Blazier told the newspaper on May 9 that several cosmetic tweaks and other adjustments were made that should save money without changing the size of the building or any of its intended purposes.

"The functionality of the building is going to remain the same," he assured Wheeling's print and digital news source.

Herron said the low bid was $10 million, adding, "Various things were deducted off, and we were able to drop that down to $9 million with deductions that the fire department has been involved in and is okay with."

Among the cost-saving trims were:

  • The elimination of several windows, including six on the exterior of the building, another five in the apparatus bay where the fire trucks will be kept, and some along the lower level of the proposed structure.
  • By changing the size of the precast concrete panels on the outside of the building, Herron noted, the city also will save a significant amount of money. That meant changing the panel sizes from 12 in. to 8 in. Blazier explained that the panels will not be quite as thick as the specifications had been in the original designs, but their size adjustment will reflect a $267,000 savings.
  • The Intelligencer reported that urinals will be removed from the designs in the shower room and an emergency generator on the site will be dropped from one that could continue powering everything in the building — including the air conditioning units — to one that only powers heat and light in case of an outage. That adjustment will save $50,000.
  • With an elimination of a tornado shelter that had been factored into the original design, another $311,000 will be saved. Herron explained that that was a suggested addition to the facility, but not a requirement.

"The size of the building — the square footage in the building and the amenities of the building — has not been compromised," he said to the news source. "It's still a 26,000-sq.-ft. building."

Another adjustment to save money on the project involves extending the construction period beyond the original one-year window.

"In order to get the price down, we had to extend it to 18 months," Herron explained, noting that the delay will not be an issue for the fire department. "It's going to be a really nice project."

Project Already in the Demolition Phase

Money from Wheeling's City Service Fee will be used to repay funds from a bond package that will be used for the construction. When the city council approved the bond ordinance last year, the language allowed for up to $9 million in financing for the fire department headquarters. That funding amount had provided a cushion well over the engineer's estimate of just under $7.8 million.

However, officials noted that construction costs have been elevated amid the nation's ongoing supply chain issues for materials, in addition to a volatile U.S. economy.

According to Herron, time is of the essence because the city secured a favorable financing package from the bank, but it has a deadline attached to it, as does the window on accepting a bid.

Much like the current construction of the new Wheeling Police Department headquarters in Center Wheeling, expenses associated with the fire department's new furnishings, wiring, technology equipment and other costs are not being included in the overall cost of construction, Herron told The Intelligencer.

Existing vacant structures were recently demolished by Lansing, W.Va.-based Edgco Inc. and are being removed from the 17th Street property, where site preparation will be immediately followed by construction if the contract is approved by the city council on May 17.

The Wheeling morning newspaper noted that the 30-day bid hold and the deadline to pull the trigger on the financing package is set for the next day, May 18.

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