AUGUSTA — City councilors said they are now satisfied a city-owned site, despite containing clay soil potentially unable to support the weight of firetrucks without help from $500,000 worth of structural steel pilings, is the best place to build a new fire station in north Augusta.

Building there will mean spending $500,000 more than the $3.6 million budgeted and approved by voters for the project.

However, city officials said other locations in the area aren’t good spots for a fire station, could be more expensive to develop, and could end up having their own potentially costly soil problems.

Ward 3 Councilor Patrick Paradis, who previously 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 the proposed site on Leighton Road at its intersection with Anthony Avenue, said Thursday he now agrees, if somewhat grudgingly, the chosen site is the best location for the station even with its unstable soil. He said Fire Chief Roger Audette, in a visit to multiple potential fire station sites last week, explained the unique needs of a fire station, including that it be located so firefighters can respond quickly from it. The proposed property known as the Quimby lot best meets those needs, he said.

“We looked at many spots. We looked at all the alternatives, but try as we might, they seemed to point more and more towards the Quimby lot,” Paradis said.

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 a soil boring wasn’t done until the fire station was designed and a specific location on the lot was selected for it. She said at first planners thought the problem would cost about $150,000 to fix, which she said they initially thought could be covered by cost savings elsewhere in the project budget.

Further testing indicated it would take about $500,000 to stabilize the ground under the fire station and its parking lot.

Scott Homer, senior architectural engineer for Ames Associates, said initial testing in early August went down about 30 feet without finding soil stable enough to build a station on.

Councilors are scheduled to vote on the fire station site at their Feb. 4 business meeting.

The vote will be 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 collected $847,600 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.

St. Pierre said previously that 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 could have ledge that would require blasting, either of which would add more cost.

The proposed fire station site was acquired by the city for $175,000 in 1999 in the hope of using it to attract business to the area. However, the city never drew development to the site. Bridgeo said the fire station would 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.

City Manager William Bridgeo said the city may build in penalties if the contractor who wins the bid to build the station is late completing the project and bonuses for being early. He noted the city’s new multipurpose ladder firetruck has been ordered and is expected to arrive in December, and it is too big to fit in any of the city’s existing stations.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj


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