With the lowest bid running $1 million more than the $2 million projected cost, the city has elected to go back to the drafting table for a Potowomut fire station.
Last week, the city rejected all eight bids for the station that is to be built on the site of the former Potowomut School. They ranged from a low of $3,050,000 to a high of $3,569,000.
Mayor Scott Avedisian said Tuesday the city would need to go out to bid again after “changing the scope” of the new station. He suspects the Fire Department’s intention to use it as a backup for the emergency command center at Station One in Apponaug pushed up costs. To meet the designation as a center, Avedisian said it had to be “bomb-proofed.”
Fire Chief Edmund Armstrong had hoped a bid could be awarded this spring and that construction of the two-bay station would have been largely completed by the end of this year. The station had been touted for adding no cost to the city while providing Potowomut residents fire protection service equivalent to the rest of the city.
Presently, the area is provided service under an agreement with East Greenwich costing about $350,000 a year. But even though East Greenwich is providing coverage, Warwick apparatus stationed in Cowesett also respond to most Potowomut calls.
The Potowomut station would be staffed by one of the two engine companies now housed near Aldrich Junior High School, thereby not requiring additional personnel or equipment, according to the chief. The money saved by ending the contract with East Greenwich would underwrite the debt service costs of borrowing the $2 million to build it.
Could the city seek additional funding and proceed with construction?
Avedisian doesn’t see that. He said the bond issue is for $2 million and the station would need to be redesigned to lower costs. The cost of the station was projected at $1.8 million with demolition costs for the school at $200,000.
“I spoke to the chief,” said Ward 9 Councilman Steve Merolla. “You have to stay on budget.”
Merolla has consistently pushed for a Potowomut station, maintaining that the city is overpaying East Greenwich.
“It really doesn’t make sense,” he said of the agreement. “We provide them with mutual aid. We’re their backup. Where they got the notion to charge that amount of money is ridiculous.”
Merolla thinks a reserve rescue should be stationed in Potowomut and, depending on the nature of the call, firefighters should use it or a truck to respond. This would provide area rescue service without creating another rescue company. And, as a lot of calls are to Goddard Park, he reasons the city should be reimbursed by the state, if not the insurance companies of the individuals assisted.
He thinks rescue service could be a “money maker.”
Voters approved the bond issue in 2006 for the station but, with the recession, Avedisian put a moratorium on issuing bonds to control city debt expenses. With closure of the Potowomut School as part of school consolidation, and subsequent unsuccessful efforts to find other uses for the building, however, the property became the prime site for the fire station.
While other sites were suggested, including one on Ives Road, and there were suggestions that Warwick should cooperatively work with East Greenwich, which is looking to relocate its Main Street station, the administration settled on the school site. It was determined the former school could not be re-purposed for a fire station and it was razed last year.