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Mass. fire station projected to cost $3M more than expected

A new facility would replace the John F. Cutter Jr. Fire Station, which has been in use since the early 1970s and has a decaying roof

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Image/City of Newburyport

By Jim Sullivan
The Daily News of Newburyport

NEWBURYPORT, Mass. — Construction of the new West End fire station has yet to begin but it will need roughly another $3 million to bring it to life, according to city officials.

The City Council in 2021 unanimously approved a $5.9 million bond order to bankroll the design and construction of a new, roughly 6,800-square-foot emergency services facility to replace the aging John F. Cutter Jr. Fire Station on Storey Avenue. It has also authorized spending $400,000 to acquire the adjacent 1 Lieutenant Leary Drive to assist the fire station project.

The project is expected to go out to bid in March but Mayor Sean Reardon told The Daily News this week that a recent cost analysis has shown that it will need millions of dollars more to get the job done.

“We got a new cost estimate and it’s a $3 million increase. Unfortunately, it is what it is right now. It’s very expensive to do any of these projects. So we have submitted an order to the City Council to adjust that bond,” he said.

Finance Director/City Auditor Ethan Manning said the initial $5.9 million bond order would need to be rescinded and a new, $9.19 million bond order would take its place.

“This is not unprecedented. We have done it with larger projects like the wastewater treatment plant upgrade in the past. This particular project started pre-pandemic and has had to endure a huge inflationary environment, so it is not a shock to me that we are at where we are today,” he said.

Reardon said he expects the new bond request to receive a first reading from the City Council on Monday before being referred to the Budget and Finance Subcommittee.

“This will give the council time to vet the information and it could come back to it in late January or February, so the administration can continue to go out to bid and see what we get back, in terms of pricing,” Manning said.

The 2,258-square-foot John F. Cutter Jr. Fire Station has been in use since the early 1970s and in recent years has seen its roof decaying. It no longer meets current fire codes and the planned new structure, a one-story, net-zero energy consumption building, would almost be three times as big.

Senior Project Manager Geordie Vining has been managing the project, along with Acting Fire Chief Steve Bradbury and Salem-based Winter Street Architects.

Reardon said the City Council would need to approve the new bond order by a two-thirds super majority.

“It’s disappointing that there’s such a large gap that we have to make up. But I do think it’s an important project. My grandfather was a fire chief when the fire station was opened. So it is long overdue,” he said.

Council President Heather Shand said she was looking forward to discussing the issue further but added, “we need to fund the fire station.”

“We have been waiting too long to get this built. We all knew we were going into tough times with inflation but we definitely need this fire station built,” she said.

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