Going cheap can cost you in the long run

Fire Station No. 6

In his 11 years with the City of College Station, Assistant Director of Capital Projects Donald Harmon has served as project manager for four of the city’s six fire stations, including Fire Station No. 6, which is set to open in late 2012.The $6.9 million facility was approved as part of the 2008 bond election. Located at the intersection of University Drive and Tarrow Street, this station will provide coverage and improve response time to the University Drive corridor and the growing Texas A&M campus.

In many cases, the cheapest way of doing something can cost you more in the long run. We learned that the hard way when we built College Station’s Fire Station No. 2 a decade ago. In an attempt to trim costs, we chose laminate counter tops. Unfortunately, those bright new countertops did not last a year and had to be replaced.

Generally, there are three readily available materials for countertops — laminate, composite, or natural stone such as marble or granite. Laminate has the lowest initial cost but has problems with durability, while natural stone has problems with scorching, requires annual maintenance, and has the highest initial cost.

Since our experience with Fire Station No. 2, we have chosen a composite material. These countertops have proven to have the lowest cost in the long run. Our primary objective is to provide a quality project that requires little or no maintenance and has the lowest cost over the life of the facility.

We use a systematic approach to reviewing each element of the facility to make sure that essential functions are achieved at the lowest cost in the facility’s life cycle. Part of that method is called Construction Manager At Risk, or CMAR. Basically, this delivery method uses a general construction contractor in the pre-construction phase to review the architect’s design, provide input on the availability of materials and equipment, provide detailed cost estimates, and to aid in value engineering, which is much more than simply a cost-cutting measure.

Project Scope Defined by Needs
At approximately 25,000 square feet, Fire Station No. 6 will be more than twice the size of our previous stations. Contrary to the design of a neighborhood station like that of Fire Station No. 3 on Barron, which blends into a residential area, this station will be a landmark along the University Drive corridor.

The scope of work for each station has been defined by the needs of the fire department.  The most significant factors affecting a facility’s size are staffing and vehicular requirements. The new station will sleep 14 and have five double deep (about 110-feet long) apparatus bays for vehicles and equipment.

In addition to the bedrooms and bays, some spaces are common to each station. The floor plan consists of storage and office spaces, EMS storage room, bunker gear/laundry room, weight room, electrical/communications room, report-writing room, kitchen, dining room, day room, watch room, bathrooms with showers, and a community/training room for staff training or community use. This facility also has a HAZMAT gear storage room.

Meeting the Challenges
Each fire station project has presented certain site challenges — No. 2 had to be constructed on the existing site while remaining fully operational; No. 3 had a significant (12-15 feet) grade difference between the front and back property lines; and No.  5 was a narrow parcel bounded by a utility easement and a creek.

The challenge with Station No. 6 will be identifying and removing remnants of a groundwater storage tank foundation that was on the site until the late 1990s. We have used record drawings, aerial maps and satellite imagery to help locate the abandoned infrastructure. Ensuring that any underground obstructions are cleared is critical for the foundation construction.

A significant improvement that has been made to our vertical construction projects is the use of structural foundations. Our area has significant expansive clay soils, which may cause building movement, which can cause problems with windows and doors, cracks in concrete block walls, etc. A structural foundation uses piers and beams to isolate the slab from the ground and minimizes the possibility of any building movement.

The site condition was used as an example of the type of challenges the project team will face during design and construction. A project of this magnitude involves the coordination of many city resources, consultants, and contractors.

Another challenge we face will be traffic control. The project team will work closely with the city’s traffic engineer and others to implement controls for the signal at University Drive and Tarrow Street. These controls will help clear vehicles from Tarrow to accommodate exiting emergency vehicles, and will hold vehicles along University Drive to allow emergency vehicles to proceed through the intersection.

Ironic Risk: Fire
Ironically, one of the greatest risks associated with loss of fire station property is fire. When the firefighters leave the facility to tend to an emergency, the stove, range or grill may be in operation.

To minimize the fire risk, three systems are put in place: first, when the station is alerted a signal is sent to a gas shut-off valve that stops the flow of gas to the appliances; second, a fire suppression system is installed in the vent hood above the range; and third, a sprinkler system is installed throughout the building.

The bottom line is that great care and planning goes into each of these projects. Our goal is to provide the most cost-effective value for our citizens while providing our firefighters a safe and comfortable place in which to work.

Donald Harmon
Donald Harmon
Assistant Director | Capital Projects
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