Pa. firehouse price rises $1.2 million over plan

Higher costs for labor, fuel, materials drive up building's expenses
By Mary Klaus
The Patriot-News
Copyright 2007 The Patriot News Co.
All Rights Reserved

SWARTA TWP., Pa. — When the Swatara Twp. commissioners voted unanimously in 2005 to consolidate two fire companies and renovate one of their stations, they expected to spend about $1.5 million.

Last year, they voted unanimously to spend $2.4 million to create the Swatara Twp. Volunteer Fire Department firehouse out of what was the Citizens Fire Company of Oberlin.

The firehouse, expected to be occupied in the next couple of weeks, now carries a $2.7 million price tag.

"When architects and engineers retrofit a new building onto an existing one, they run into unforeseen situations," said Swatara Twp. Fire Marshal Darrin Robinson, who is also the fire chief.

He and Paul Cornell, the township administrator, said the firehouse had been expected to cost $2.4 million. The price went up because of "change orders," or additional costs, and $65,000 to buy an adjacent house that was demolished for the project, Robinson said.

Goodwill Fire Company of Enhaut and Citizens Fire Company of Oberlin merged on Jan. 1, becoming the Swatara Twp. Volunteer Fire Department.

It took the two fire companies about five years to merge, said Swatara Twp. Commissioner Robert Spandler, a former Enhaut fire chief for 10 years and now the township's emergency services committee chairman.

Once the companies committed to combining, the members unsuccessfully searched for land on which to build a firehouse, Spandler said. Then Oberlin donated its firehouse to the township for renovations and expansion. Enhaut sold its building for $82,000 and is giving that money to the new department.

Frank Rubinic, who led the firehouse building committee, said it planned a $2.5 million firehouse. But when the commissioners said that cost was too high, the committee scaled back the plans to about $1.5 million, he said.

"A normal building has cost overruns of 10 percent. The township wanted ours to be 5 percent," he said.

The final price tag, $2.7 million, is about 10 percent over budget.

Spandler attributed much of the added cost to labor and increases in the costs of fuel, copper, steel and other materials. Over the last seven months, Spandler has brought $193,356 from 23 change orders to the commissioners for approval.

The biggest additional cost, which Spandler proposed and the commissioners unanimously agreed to on July 11, was for a $128,611 Plymovent system to prevent exposure to diesel exhaust. Fire apparatus with diesel engines produce a mix of toxic gases and particulates because of the combustion process.

"This is needed for firefighters' health," Spandler said. "It will keep the new building and the firefighters' gear cleaner."

The station has six drive-through apparatus bays with 14-foot-high doors, a watch room/communication center, offices, a kitchen, a lounge, a workout room, a decontamination room, a meeting room to accommodate up to 75, a bunk room for up to 16 and a library that doubles as a classroom.

The firehouse's tallest feature, a 40-foot hose tower with a spiral staircase, was built for more than $100,000. It had been questioned in the planning stage by those who said the township hose washer and dryer are about a half-mile away and the Harrisburg Area Community College fire school is about 20 minutes away.

Spandler said the hose tower allows the firefighters to do in-house training.

"We have a building which will be there for 50 years or more, without a doubt," he said. "The more I see it, the more I'm impressed with the design."

He said that that the township, which owns the building, will pay the utility and insurance bills.

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