Valley Center, CA
August 18, 2022
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Mostly clear

Fire board postpones action on new station contract

Artist’s conception of the temporary building for Valley Center’s third fire station.


Two directors want more information on the actual cost of the temporary building for the 3rd fire station and remodeling of the two existing stations. So the Valley Center Fire Board Thursday postponed action on Design Build Contract with Biglione Construction and Erickson Hall Construction.

The special meeting combined an in-person meeting with directors Phil Bell, Charlotte Seaborne, Steve Hutchison and directors Mike O’Connor and Gina Roberts attending remotely. Fire Chief Joe Napier also attended remotely.

Robin Biglione of Biglione Construction briefed directors on the Design Build Process, never used before by VCFPD. 

The process involves the contractor, in this case Biglione Construction, acting as architect and bringing in other contractors, all under an agreed up price. 

Biglione explained design build. “You involve the contractor during the design phase. You get a team approach with all working together to achieve your goals. Instead of a process that is potentially adversarial, everyone works as a team and contractor provides input during the design process.”

She added, “You bring the contractor in early and they are responsible for the design and construction. You get the best value for the design meeting the criteria.” She added, “You pick the contractor based on qualifications, rather than low bid.” Hiring the low bidder doesn’t always get the best value or the lowest cost due to change orders. “This is an open book. You see all the costs and you get what you want.” It should also provide a faster delivery of the project, she said. 

She provided several local examples of fire stations built by Erickson Hall. 

VCFPD hired Biglione Construction in 2018 to assist with site selection for Fire Station No. 3 and oversee the preparation of studies related to property acquisition and for use in the RFP (request for proposal) for Design Build Services.

The district owns the 10 acres northwest of the intersection of Cole Grade Road and Cole Grade Lane.

Funding sources include, District mitigation funds, $350,000; State budget allocation,  $680,000 (with half being allocated for this project); Supervisor Jim Desmond’s grant and COVID grants, $279,000; Fire Foundation commitment, $576,000 for a total of $1,885,200.  

They originally started with a larger wish list from the district. Once they got the proposal from Erickson Hall and working with the district staff, Biglione narrowed the list to the following:

Station 1

• Increase the height of the front apparatus bay doors and provide automatic openers for the rear doors.

• Install a new compressor and compressor enclosure, with compressed air to apparatus bays

• Design and install new HVAC system throughout the main fire station building

• Reconfigure the dorm space, crew restroom and kitchen, including moving refrigerators out of the apparatus bay.

Station 2

• Increase height of all apparatus bay doors

•Design and install new HVAC system

• Reconfigure dorm space to improve functionality and comfort

•Remodel the kitchen to provide space for three refrigerators

• Provide a screened in area with a half-wall and exercise flooring for the rear patio area

• Replace and expand the concrete area in the rear of the station.

Temporary Station 3 Project

This project won’t interfere with the future construction of a  permanent station. It will provide for a septic system and pad for the permanent facility. This will involve grading 2 separate areas.

Seaborne asked how COVID funds need to be spent. Chief Napier said they must be spent on HVAC, kitchens and dorm. He added, “Getting refrigerators out of the apparatus bay and the laundry room IS A MUST.”

Biglione added, “The only thing to be addressed in the next phase is the actual cost of construction. There will be a two-page design build amendment and an agreed to guaranteed maximum price.

The Design Build Contract is $504,980 includes preconstruction costs of $502,980. “We are potentially designing projects we won’t have the money to do, and when you have money you can enter into an agreement to add projects on,” said Biglione.

Biglione said she has worked on 30 or 40 municipal projects and Erickson Hall is very familiar with this kind of work. “We know what the tasks are. If something unforeseen comes up, it would come out of contingency.” She said the $502,000 was a “hard” number. 

Director O’Connor said, “It’s news to me about the funds really not being available to do the redesign work. That’s $160,000 for design costs without a nail going into the ground. And now I found out there’s not funds to do those remodels because of the cost of a new station.”

The two stations are “viable now,” said O’Connor. “I have a hard time giving $160,000 and not knowing we will be doing projects.” He added, “We can’t tax the citizens anymore. I’m leery of spending $160,000 and not seeing a nail go in the ground.” He added, “Station 3 is a priority but we have two fire stations that are substandard. I’d like to see them move up the priority list. That seems like a lot of money to do nothing.”

Biglione presented the schedule for completion of the projects:

Project Schedule

Award of DB contract, April 7,

Design Dev Complete May 5,

Construction dox complete, June 2

County permits issued, August 19

GMP proposal Sept. 15

Substantial completion, January 27

Director Roberts asked, “Why would we get permits issued before we have a proposal if we don’t know what we can pay for?”

Biglione said the idea was to get permits so the projects are “shovel ready” when the district has the money. The County remains an unknown. “For the temporary station the County could tell us one thing today and then it get more complicated,” she said. That is the unknown for the January 27 completion date, she said. 

Asked the useful life of the temporary station, Biglione said from five to 10 years. “We are sure the County will want to put a sunset on that time,” she said.

O’Connor, a retired firefighter, added, “They get pretty beat up pretty easily because they are used 24/7. After five to ten years, they will be pretty beat up.” Once again he complained, “We’ve got a check for $1.8 million and almost a third is spent before we put a nail in the ground.”

Director Roberts said a typical construction contract devotes a third to design and permits, “So this is not out there. But we are not used to seeing it this way. Usually you go out and have an architect design it. It’s a different point of view.”

O’Connor countered, “We’re spending $160,000 and we don’t know if any of those designs will come to reality if we don’t have the money.”

Roberts said three of the five projects are covered by existing funding. “Construction is not cheap anymore and this is all prevailing wage stuff,” she said.

O’Connor insisted they should find the money for all the projects. “Those two stations have required upgrading for a long time. Whether we have to go for more mitigation money or from reserves. If we are going to spend these preconstruction costs let’s do it all.”

Director Seaborne added, “The challenge most of us are having who are not familiar with this process is we want to know what the final cost is now and not then. Some type of 5 year forecast would help us understand the total costs, wages, and what is the source of income. I think that is what we are struggling with: asked to spend a third of the money and not knowing what the total cost will be.”

Biglione said, “Until you have a design, it’s very hard to know how much it will cost to build it.”

Napier said “That’s why we bought such a substantial piece of property, so we could do it in phases,” he said. “We are going to need to know, once the design is completed, what is the cost for the prioritized projects. So we know how much to pull out of mitigation funds.”

The $1.8 million, said Napier, “was an estimate to get us down the road to the design build. Then, if we need to pull more out of mitigation, we have more. But I didn’t want to commit more to what we had already discussed before we saw the design.”

Napier said items in the stations will need to be prioritized. “We need to know what the cost is for the doors even if we don’t do it first. There is some flexibility, but it is not as great until we see the design and then prioritize that with the board.”

The bay door height needs to be raised. “Because as we buy modern fire equipment, we are already at maximum height. We only have  one and a half inch clearance,” said Napier.

Seaborne asked to delay the vote to give her more time to see a timeline about costs set against sources of income. “That would be a valuable piece of information for me to look at.”

Napier said it is talking “apples and oranges” to include staffing costs and capital costs in the same calculation. “We are happy to build a report showing what the staffing, capital cost and maintenance is out to five years, would be a reasonable estimate,” he said.

Seaborne said that was reasonable.

O’Connor said the report says “total fiscal impact. I read that all the projects are covered. Is all that in the $1.8 million? I’m hearing tonight they are going to cost more.”

Biglione said, “We haven’t designed the project but we suspect the $1.8 million won’t be enough. She added, “Tonight what you would be approving is the design. This really isn’t much different where you contract for design, bid it and get a cost for construction.”

Napier said “it is news to me as well [that the $1.8 million might not be sufficient.] It reflects that we should spend $502,000 and find out what the hard construction costs are. We can’t move forward and know the exact costs until we get a design. If we wait until we have the funding to do the design, that will cost us a huge amount in timing.” 

Roberts said, “I’m a fan of design build. It’s an innovative way to do projects. The problem is you enter them without a hard number. To get hard numbers you need a design.”

Seaborne conceptually supported design build. “I recognize that you go in without a final number. We are wrestling with that. We thought we knew that number was $1.8 million when it might be a larger number. If we go forward, we need as much input from Valley Center Fire resources as possible.”

She suggested appointing Roberts as the board’s contact with the project team. “I don’t feel qualified to give as much input as Director Roberts … That she receive monthly updates at minimum and be involved in the meetings.” She added, “Roberts has a unique skill set in having construction experience, and being able to ask questions. I’m recommending adding her as an additional resource.” She later said, “we have a unique opportunity with her skill set.”

Board President Phil Bell said, “I think this is a classic chicken before the egg. We can’t do one without the other and we can’t go forward without knowing the numbers.”

Bell said, “My overarching concern is tonight, are we going to authorize a design component to derive numbers for us to look at and be able to know hard numbers what Erickson Hall is going to have to produce for us? The more we push this out, the higher the cost will be.” He understood directors’ passions and concerns, “But sometimes we have to proceed with the best knowledge we have.” He counseled “listening to the experts. “I have been in a lot of facilities they have been involved with and the end product is something we will all be proud of. If the experts in the industry say this is how this is done I’m saying we should listen to the experts.”

O’Connor said he agreed with the costs. “My question is the difference from one meeting to the next. One meeting we were going to spend $1.8 million. Tonight we hear we can’t spend it all on the remodels. Let’s find the money to do it all.”

Biglione said, “The positive part of this is that this will all come back to the board. This item will be back in front of you and the board will be able to see what everything costs. You are still in the driver’s seat. You’re just committing to spend the funds on design.”

Roberts said, “The cool thing about design build is it doesn’t benefit anybody for the contractor to low ball it and try to make it up on change orders. That’s the beauty, rather than awarding a multimillion contract to somebody who doesn’t perform.”

Napier said he too had been expecting a hard cost. “At the end of the day I thought $1.8 million would be the target but now I’m hearing that may not be. We need to get the design finished so we can prioritize the costs. Then work with finance committee on any extra money from mitigation fees that we have in our account right now.”

The motion to postpone the vote until the next meeting in April was approved.

One response to “Fire board postpones action on new station contract”

  1. John says:

    It seems to me that by the time we get the third fire (temporary) station in with all the new homes going up we will still be under served. I hope I’m wrong. After getting my non-renewal for home owners insurance and now paying almost double for it because I live 5.1 miles from station 2 I don’t have much trust in the government. If a fire happens many will not be able to evacuate safely.

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