Estimates on new public works and fire station buildings surpass $20 million combined.
BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – Fort Madison Fire Chief Joey Herren pleaded with the City Council Tuesday on moving forward with two building projects in the city.
Herren advocated for the construction of a new city public works facility near Rodeo Park, and the construction of a new fire station south of the 2200 block of Avenue L, where the current deteriorated public works facility is located.
He said initial drawing projections have the public works building at just over 54,000 square feet at a cost of about $10.8 million, while the fire station would be a 27,000 square foot facility with an estimated cost of $9.5 million.
Herren said the public works facility has to be built first so the current building can be demolished and construction on the fire station could begin.
He said the city doesn’t have final drawings on the facilities yet, but he expects them in the next several weeks, but he didn’t want the council to forget about the need for the buildings,.
“With all the talk about dollars we’ve had in the past few weeks, we need to get these on the plate, too,” Herren said.
“You’re having to make big decisions about big dollars here lately and I didn’t want you to forget about these two projects. It’s time.”
Herren provided a break down of the public works building and the new fire station needs including input from the employees.
“We’ve been kicking this can down the road for the 16 years since I’ve been the chief. We started the design-build the last time we did this about eight years ago it was $4.5 million to do it then,” he said.
“Then the state made us change that in 2019 and you can’t do design-build anymore. We figured we might be in the $7 million build after that change and we thought we’d be in the $12 million to $15 million range to do both.”
But he said the supply chain shortages that have been plaguing construction projects since the pandemic started, have pushed construction costs almost 40%.
Councilman Chad Cangas and Councilwoman Donna Amandus asked Herren what the landscape is on grant funding and other assistance.
Herren said grants are very difficult to find for vertical construction. He said the city just isn’t poor enough or carrying enough debt to qualify for USDA loans or any substantial federal assistance.
“I wanted to do this because we’re seeing some of this free-flowing money and having shovel ready products. But from webinars and information coming forward they aren’t wanting to build structures. They’ve tightened those stipulations on how you can spend it. I don’t think they really want you to spend it,” Herren said referring to the federal infrastructure stimulus that is part of America Rescue Plan Act funding and President Biden’s new infrastructure investment program.
“It’s not for the meat-and-potatoes stuff of sewer and water and updating buildings,” he told the council. They don’t put money toward that so I’m not sure how they want you to spend it.”
He said the condition of the public works building is very poor and it looks bad for the city to tell others to get cleaned up and secured and then have a public building that looks like that.
“We know how that is and we talk to people about their (property), but it doesn’t look good there. It looks like it’s going to fall down. You need to go down there and take a look,” Herren said.
He said every six months he has to have the sewer line at the fire station serviced. He said if that happens in the winter time, he doesn’t know where he would operate from.
City Councilwoman Donna Amandus said short of grant money where is the money going to come from.
Herren said the city either bonds for the roads or bonds for infrastructure. The city’s remaining funds that were allocated for rehabilitation of Hwy. 61 in city limits won’t cover the cost of the buildings, so the city will have to bond at some point to cover those cost of construction.
Mohrfeld said the city is on the right path forward.
“I think we need a work session with the council that brings all the questions in detail of what’s being proposed in terms of building and costs. Then going forward we have to have a strategy for finance,” Mohrfeld said.
He said that could be grants if they exist, bonding, or anything out of the consolidated public works budgets that could be used, but he didn’t want to try and answer that question yet.
He asked Herren to send out the breakdowns of the building square footage to the council and then he would call for a workshop to discuss the projects further.