AUGUSTA — City councilors are set to decide Thursday whether to sink $500,000 worth of pilings 60 feet into the ground to stabilize the soil at the planned location of a new fire station in north Augusta.

City administrators recommend spending the money to fix the unanticipated problem of soupy clay soil at the site where engineers have expressed concerns that the soil can’t support the weight of the station and the heavy firetrucks without additional stabilization.

However, last week some city councilors said they want the city to consider other locations.

Ward 3 Councilor Patrick Paradis said he didn’t think the planned site on Leighton Road, across from the intersection with Anthony Avenue, was the best location. He said the city should consider putting it on land it owns surrounding the city-owned Augusta Civic Center.

Fire Chief Roger Audette said the Civic Center area was considered and rejected as a potential location for a new fire station when the city was looking at locations in 2007 and 2008.

Audette reiterated the potential logistical problems with having a fire station on the Augusta Civic Center property in a recent memo to City Manager William Bridgeo, in which he said the currently planned site, known as the Quimby lot, is still his choice.

He said there were four major concerns at the Civic Center:

• The number of cars parked in and around the Civic Center for events

• The amount of traffic at the intersection of Community and Civic Center drives, which he described as “by far the busiest intersection in the city”

• The difficulty of finding the 40,000 to 60,000 square feet needed to build a new fire station, which could take 160 parking spaces

• The potential for the presence of a fire station limiting future expansion of the Civic Center

“The Quimby lot is best suited to address response times in north Augusta as well as the significant expansion/investments on outer Western Ave., the Leighton Road and Mt. Vernon Road areas,” Audette said in the memo. “The Civic Center is not a suitable site for fire facilities. It is my recommendation that the new facility continue on the current path at the Quimby lot.”

Bridgeo said he and other city staff members would be available at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday at the entrance to the Civic Center to discuss the issue and answer questions from councilors at the site.

Officials fear that if the station is built on the wet, clay-heavy soil discovered at the Quimby lot as is, its cement floors will crack.

Rather than abandon the lot and plans to build a station there within a year, the city staff recommends spending about $500,000 to install structural steel pilings extending at least 60 feet down, though the clay to bedrock, to provide a solid base for the fire station and the concrete floors that will bear the weight of the trucks, as well as ambulances.

At-large Councilor Marci Alexander expressed concerns about the longevity of the station if it is built on pilings in unstable ground. She asked to see documentation from a structural engineer certifying the station would last if built on the pilings, which Bridgeo noted are used often in construction, especially in places such as Boston, where soil is unstable.

In response, a letter from Scott Homer, senior structural engineer for Ames Associates, the city’s architectural and engineering firm on the project, was included in this week’s agenda information for city councilors.

The letter, which does not specify how many years the station might be expected to last or the effect of it being on pilings, bears Homer’s engineer’s embossed seal.

It states that the building is designed to comply with the Maine Uniform Building Code as well as standards for “essential facilities,” which are “the most stringent of the code standards.”

The projected budget of $3.6 million for the new station doesn’t include the recently discovered need for about $500,000 worth of pilings to stabilize the site.

In November 2014, voters approved bonds of $3.6 million for the fire station and $1 million for a new multipurpose firetruck before the need for an additional $500,000 was known.

However, Ralph St. Pierre, finance director and assistant city manager, said the city has $847,600 collected in property taxes on new development in five Tax Increment Financing districts in the city, and each of those TIFs was established with potential allowed uses including expenditures for Fire Department infrastructure. That money could more than cover the additional cost and, if councilors approve, be used to keep the project moving forward, without requiring an increase in the property tax rate.

The proposal to use those TIF funds to pay the additional $500,000 in costs to build a fire station on the city-owned Quimby lot goes to city councilors for a vote Thursday.

Councilors plan to meet at 7 p.m. Thursday in council chambers at Augusta City Center.

Councilors are also scheduled to:

• Consider voting to accept winning bids submitted to buy three properties acquired by the city through nonpayment of taxes: a bid of $15,855 for 36 Oak St., a bid of $1,500 for 44 State St., and a bid of $1,511 for 4 Chase Ave.; and

• Consider amending parking rules to change a section of the east side of Water Street, north of Bridge Street, from one-hour to two-hour parking.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.