AUGUSTA — The completion of the city’s first new fire station in more than 50 years is a couple of weeks behind schedule, but Augusta Fire Chief Roger Audette said that the important thing is that the work is being done right.

“I keep telling people that it’s been almost 60 years since we’ve built a station, so another month wasn’t going to hurt us,” Audette said last week during a tour of the new facility on Leighton Road. “We’re still a couple of weeks behind, so it’s looking like mid-February before it’s done.”

It’s been 51 years since the city’s newest fire station was built on Hospital Street, and Audette said because of the growth in the area and the increase in fire department calls to north Augusta, this station is overdue.

A study by the Matrix Consulting Group in 2008 recommended the department build a new station in the area of Civic Center Drive near Interstate 95. The area is home to the Marketplace at Augusta, a hospital and an under-construction National Guard headquarters, along with several businesses, organizations and public agencies.

The building should last for between 70 and 90 years, Audette said, and it was designed to be expanded if there was a need because of the continued growth in north Augusta.

“It’s highly likely they’ll want to do that down the road,” the chief said. “Look how much has changed in the last 15 or 20 years.”

The majority of the exterior work on the structure, which will have space for the city’s new ladder truck, ambulances, a fire engine and a support vehicle, is complete, and Audette said the inside of the building is starting to take shape.

The new substation will have living quarters including several bedrooms, separate bathrooms for men and women, an exercise area, a kitchen and will provide much-needed space, which is something lacking at the city’s other stations.

“Some of the stations we have now are overcrowded and cramped,” Audette said. Hartford Station, which is nearly 100 years old, is so cramped that firefighters can’t open equipment cabinets on the sides of trucks to do inventory while they are parked inside.

The living quarters are needed, Audette said, because there are some firefighters who may work 24- or 48-hour shifts. The fitness center was an important feature because staying in top physical shape is imperative for firefighters, who often are asked to carry heavy gear or people up and down hills or stairs.

Voters approved a $6 million bond issue earlier this month to renovate Hartford Station. The new North Station is expected to cost about $4 million.

Audette said the firefighters are looking forward to the completion of the construction of new station, which began in May.

“They’re excited, and we’ve been bringing them up here almost daily to look at it and check it out,” he said. “There aren’t a lot of bells and whistles, but it is functional, which is what we need.”

The project has been delayed because of problems with the ground under the station and scheduling issues with some of the contractors on the project.

Augusta voters approved $3.6 million in bonds for the new station in a November 2014 referendum, but in early 2015, city officials learned the clay soil under the station may not be able to support the weight of the station and the water-filled trucks it would house. The Augusta City Council approved spending an additional $500,000 to install steel pilings 60 feet down through the soil into bedrock to support the weight.

“The delays don’t really throw us off, and operationally, we’ll be fine,” Audette said. “What’s important is the quality of the work is top notch and is being done right.”

Audette said he hopes to get an architect and contractor on board to start the Hartford Station project in the spring.

The chief said every time he walks into the new building, he gets a smile on his face because he is happy to know the department is “finally going to have the room to do the things we need to do like buy new trucks.”

“I’ve been here 24 years, and I probably won’t work out of these new stations much, but the city will be set up for generations to come,” Audette said.

There had been significant efforts by former chiefs to get a new station built in the 1990s, Audette said. Though he has no plans to retire, getting this station done before he hangs up his fire helmet was important.

“It’s been 25, 30 years of trying to address our facility issues, but they are now coming to fruition because of proper planning by our finance director and support from our city council,” Audette said.

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ

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