AUGUSTA — Augusta Fire Chief Roger Audette said the department has gotten a lot of bang for its buck at the 96-year-old Hartford Fire Station. But more bucks are what it will take to make sure the station is operational for years to come.

During a tour of the structure Friday morning, Audette outlined plans to shore up the garage flooring of the station and in 2018 to expand the facility to accommodate larger fire equipment.

The chief said that after inspections in 2013, an engineer recommended the department fix the cracks in the floor, and the city budgeted $60,000 to complete the work. But in a series of meetings several weeks ago, the same engineer recommended that plan wouldn’t make the floor strong enough to hold fire engines.

“We have asked her to come up with a plan to shore up the floor so we can bring the fire engine back (from the Western Avenue station),” Audette said. “We want to get that work done within the next six to 10 weeks.”

The floor has several cracks in its foundation because of constant exposure to water, and the basement space below, used for storage, training and fitness, is only accessible when there are no vehicles in the garage above. The basement weight room, which has more equipment than the average local gym, can be used only during specific hours when there are no vehicles parked above the people working out.

Audette said the plan is to relocate the storage and fill and close the basement, because it doesn’t make sense to have a basement under apparatus-bay floors.

“Water is the enemy of every building,” Audette said. “We’ve done a great job getting it where it is, but it’s time to fix it.”

Audette admits that shoring up the floor would be a temporary fix, but he looked ahead to the bigger expansion project as a way to save money while updating the facility.

“We want to shore it up now, and then after we decide about the addition, we will do it all,” Audette said. “We’ll save money because the workers will already be here.”

Ralph St. Pierre, Augusta’s director of finance and assistant city manager, said they think the work can be completed for the $60,000 already budgeted. He doesn’t anticipate needing to go to the City Council for more money, but because the flooring needs to be shored up ahead of the larger project, he thinks the council would have no problem allocating additional funds should they become necessary. The project will go out to bid in the near future.

“We’re looking at trying to get a couple of years out of it while we put together a plan to renovate and expand (the Hartford station),” St. Pierre said. “Without this work, we’d have to really consider relocating apparatus and personnel.”

According to Audette and St. Pierre, expansion plans call for several new bays built large enough to house new fire engines, specifically a ladder truck. The structure, which would not have a basement, would have longer bays with bigger and taller doors. The structure would have full living quarters, a bathroom, elevator, sleeping quarters and a training room.

Audette said the current Hartford structure would keep some of its existing office space but would gain a large training room with the relocation of the living quarters to the new building. He said the plan would be to keep the existing bays for EMS and smaller support vehicles like ambulances and boats.

St. Pierre said there was an expansion plan outlined several years ago and $50,000 has been allocated to update the design to include a cost estimate.

“We have funding in this year’s Capital Improvement Plan to update the schematic done several years ago,” St. Pierre said. “We have laid out expansion plans that would (make Hartford station) big enough to accommodate modern fire trucks and apparatus.”

St. Pierre said it’s too early to estimate the cost of any expansion, but he did say it would be a multi-million-dollar project. He said the department would put together a list of potential funding sources, including a bond order and money from the tax increment financing funds designated for fire department expansion, before bringing the proposal to the City Council.

“It will take some time because I don’t think we’d do it just onto the tax rate,” St. Pierre said, “so we’d have to look at other funding sources, but I don’t want to throw out a number because it would be a wild guess.”

For perspective, he said, the construction cost of the three-bay North Augusta station — which will be built on Leighton Road this summer — was a little under $4 million.

Before any larger expansion, Audette must address the current station’s flooring. He said an advertisement will go out to contractors to come up with a shoring plan. After that, the project will be put out to bid before ultimately going before the City Council.

“I don’t think it’s a real complicated process or plan to shore the floor up,” Audette said. “Engineers shore stuff up all the time, but it needs to be done right, safely and so it will last until the addition is done.”

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ

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