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Town Council awards $15 million contract for North Fire Station

Our Town with William Kelly: Town Council awards $15 million contract for North Fire Station

The Town Council agreed Tuesday to pay a contractor nearly $15 million to rebuild the historic North Fire Station, virtually all of which has been demolished because of the poor condition of the original building.

But first, council members listened as town officials explained how the overall cost of the project recently reached an estimated $17 million – more than triple the original $5.5 million budget.

Public Works Director Paul Brazil said the interior of the landmarked fire station at 300 North County Road was discovered to be in worse condition than first thought. Very little of the original century-old structure, one of the oldest fire stations in Florida, remains.

“No one anticipated that we would not be able to salvage anything,” Brazil said. “We’ve got four [exterior] walls and an elevator shaft.”

The remainder of the three-story building, from the roof to the foundation and pilings, and the entire interior, all must be rebuilt.

The town closed the station last summer and set up adjacent, temporary quarters for the firefighters after water intrusion led to the discovery of mold a year earlier.

Councilman Ted Cooney, a former chairman of the town’s Landmarks Preservation Commission, said many of the buildings that sprung up during the Florida land boom of the 1920s were not constructed with the best materials or with longevity in mind.

“It can be jarring to see the extent of the demolition,” Cooney said of the fire station. “But construction methods in the 1920s in Palm Beach, while beautiful, were not always up to the standards of modern construction [or], in this case, up to the standards of an essential public safety building.”

The station’s deteriorated condition turned out to be one of two major factors at play in the dramatic escalation of the cost, according to Brazil, Town Manager Kirk Blouin and other officials.

The other is the scarcity of available contractors and materials in the red-hot South Florida construction market, they said. Contractors can name their price and, in many cases, will not negotiate.

“In this market, vendors won’t hold their prices,” Brazil said. “You sign a contractor, and they won’t start for another year because none of them can get the materials.”

The Consumer Price Index shows the inflation rate in South Florida at 9 percent, which is more than double the 4 percent national average. But inflation is substantially higher than 9 percent in the construction market, Blouin has pointed out.

Project architect Mark Marsh said it’s a very challenging environment: “The market is just out of control. People don’t even want to bid.”

The council on Tuesday awarded the fire station contract to Hedrick Brothers Construction, a West Palm Beach-based firm that has already performed or overseen early stages of the rehabilitation of the fire station.

The company will begin the reconstruction work this summer, Brazil said. The project is scheduled for completion in the fall of 2024.

Hedrick Brothers’ contract is for a “guaranteed maximum price” of nearly $14.9 million. The council approved another $1 million in contingency funds, setting a budget of $16 million.

The council previously approved $3.8 million that is included within the $14.9 million, Brazil said.

The total project cost comes to about $17 million after factoring in utility hookups and the cost of the temporary fire station, Brazil said.

Council President Margaret Zeidman asked Brazil if the cost could creep even higher.

That’s unlikely, Brazil replied.

“The real risk is vendor performance and supplies, and Hedrick Brothers assumes much of that risk,” he said.

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