AUGUSTA — City councilors tabled their scheduled vote Thursday on spending an additional $500,000 over the $3.6 million budgeted to build a fire station in north Augusta to pay for putting steel pilings down 60 feet into the bedrock to make sure the site can support the station and its firetrucks.

Councilors indicated Thursday they want more information and a report from an engineer about the proposed fix before they decide. They thus tabled the vote and plan to discuss the matter more at their Jan. 28 informational meeting.

“The council wanted to discuss it more fully at an informational meeting, where we’ll have the report from the engineer and be able to give it a full vetting,” said Ward 3 Councilor Patrick Paradis, who last week described the project as “bungled” and suggested the station should be built elsewhere in north Augusta, such as on the city-owned Augusta Civic Center property, rather than spending $500,000 to put pilings into the ground at the proposed site on Leighton Road at its intersection with Anthony Avenue. Paradis said he’s since had a chance to talk with city staff members about the proposal, and he understands their reasons for favoring the proposed sites over others in the city. But he still wants councilors to have more information and discussion before they vote.

Mayor David Rollins said he anticipates the proposal could come back to the council for a vote at its Feb. 4 business meeting.

Councilors voted 6-1 to table the proposal with Ward 4 Councilor Anna Blodgett the only dissenting vote.

“In my opinion, we’ve had ample information from experts and city professionals to make a decision on the existing site tonight and not prolong this process,” Blodgett said.

Councilors were scheduled to vote Thursday whether to cover the unanticipated additional cost with money collected in property taxes in multiple tax increment financing, or TIF, districts. Ralph St. Pierre, finance director and assistant city manager, said the city has $847,600 collected in property taxes on new development in five TIF districts in the city, and each of those TIFs was established with potential allowed uses, including expenditures for Fire Department infrastructure. That money will more than cover the additional cost and keep the project moving forward without requiring an increase in the property tax rate.

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.

Matt Nazar, the city’s development director, researched other sites in north Augusta looking for alternatives where a station could be built. He said all the potential sites presented their own development challenges, such as bad soil, ledge or existing buildings that would need to be demolished.

St. Pierre said starting over and buying a new site and redesigning a station for it could add $1.1 million to $1.2 million to the cost of the project, and any new site also could have either clay in the soil that would require pilings or ledge that would require blasting, either of which would add more cost.

Paradis said last week that he didn’t think the Leighton Road site 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 involved in 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.

Audette’s concerns about the Civic Center site included 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; and the potential for the presence of a fire station limiting future expansion of the Civic Center.

Bridgeo, Audette and other city staff members met Paradis and Marci Alexander and Cecil Munson, both at-large councilors, at the entrance to the Civic Center on Wednesday to discuss the site, the problems with putting a fire station there and to answer questions, according to Paradis. The group viewed alternative sites and the proposed site over an approximately hour-and-a-half tour of the sites by bus.

Officials fear that if the station is built on the wet, clay-heavy soil discovered at the Quimby lot, its cement floors will crack. The structural steel pilings would extend at least 60 feet down through 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 and ambulances.

Ellen Angel, the architect hired by the city to work on the project, said last week a soil test wasn’t done until the fire station was designed and a specific location on the lot was selected for it.

The proposed fire station site was acquired by the city for $175,000 in 1999 in hopes of using it to attract business to the area. However, the city never drew development to the site. Bridgeo said the fire station will take up only a portion of the lot, and the rest still could be developed.

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.

Audette noted that the new firetruck is being built, and it is too large to fit into any of the city’s existing fire stations. It is due to arrive in the city in December.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj


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