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Cost jump meets cost cutters

Addition of overnight quarters for volunteers on track to finish by Dec. 31

The Gaston High School juniors and seniors who started making cabinets for the Gaston fire station last week aren’t just getting real-world experience in cabinetmaking — they’re part of an intensive cost-cutting approach that is saving more than $100,000 for Gaston-area taxpayers.

The cabinets will be installed in the station’s new “overnight” addition, which will hold four beds for volunteer firefighters. For the past nine months, a small group of volunteers has already been making a difference in the station’s response time to night calls. (See sidebar, page A7.)

Gaston Rural Fire District (GRFD) residents approved a levy in May 2014 with the understanding that some of the money would go toward overnight quarters.

According to former Gaston Fire Chief Roger Mesenbrink, an architect who submitted preliminary drawings for the addition estimated the cost would range from $350,000 to $450,000. When a separate expert agreed, district officials budgeted the project for $450,000, he said.

But when the four bids came in last April, the lowest was $509,000.

“We were all in shock,” said Mesenbrink, who is overseeing the project for the GRFD. The price jump was due to the improving economy which caused building costs to jump 30 percent over just six months, he said. “Overnight, boom, we had major, major increases we had no control over.”

That’s when the hatchet came out and a three-person team — Mesenbrink, Lt. Training Officer Clay Davis and Administrative Assistant Deanna Friedman — started hacking away at the costs.

Contractor TS Gray was willing to help and in the end cut $110,000 — more than 20 percent — from the original bid, bringing the cost down to $398,000.

“Most contractors doing government facilities put in the high end of everything,” Mesenbrink said. But “unless we’re letting dogs and cows in on the floor, the middle-of-the-road grade of linoleum is just as good as the high end,” he said. “Same goes for carpeting.” That’s how the district saved on flooring costs. Other savings techniques included:

n Swapping out the high-end, fancy-fronted cabinets proposed by TS Gray and replacing them with standard residential cabinets for the kitchen and window sills; also by scrapping storage-room cabinets completely from the contract. “You can go to Ikea, Home Depot and buy your interior cabinets and save a lot of money,” said Mesenbrink.

n Eliminating 12 electrical outlets that were in the original plan. Outlet installation is labor-intensive and very expensive, Mesenbrink said.

n Having GRFD take responsibility for the landscaping

n deleting a propane stove that required an expensive plumbing system

n deleting most of the wainscoting from the bathroom

n going back to hunt for a lower bid for heating/air conditioning

n deleting “white boards” from the cost since the district already owns some.

In addition, because the station is a public-safety agency, it must meet higher seismic standards than other structures, requiring a deeper — and more expensive — foundation pit. But the district still managed to save money on excavation, in part by lowering the cost to remove the fill dirt. Instead of trucking it miles away to a company that would charge them for it, workers trucked and dumped it for free on some nearby farmland.

The July 13 change order asserts that none of the changes “will compromise the integrity, longevity or maintainability of the construction.”

There are a few additional project costs that are not included in the contract with TS Gray, such as $2,700 for the bedroom cabinets being built at the high school — for half the cost of what a custom cabinet shop would charge, according to wood shop teacher Wade Sims.

And Mesenbrink is being paid $30 per hour to oversee the project for up to three hours per week, meeting with the project engineer, contractors and GRFD board as necessary. Forest Grove Fire Chief Michael Kinkade, who took over Gaston’s part-time chief position in February, said he requested Mesenbrink’s help so he wouldn’t be overwhelmed as he started his new job and because Mesenbrink had been involved with the project early on.

Construction started Sept. 30 and is on track to finish by the end of December, Mesenbrink said.