Councilman said he doesn't have information he needs to vote on fire station

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Marcia Nelesen
Saturday, April 12, 2014

JANESVILLE--Councilman Douglas Marklein said Janesville city staff has yet to give him the information he asked for to make a decision Monday on a new fire station.

Staff members said they can't give him the detailed analysis he wants until the Janesville City Council chooses between three options, approves a budget and commissions a final design.

Marklein, a homebuilder, and Councilman DuWayne Severson at a March 10 meeting asked what the station would look like with a budget of about $8 million.

The information was not included in agenda materials released Wednesday in advance of Monday's council meeting.

Staff on Monday will ask the council to choose one of three location options, set a budget, pass a resolution to acquire needed properties and direct the staff to proceed to final design and bidding.

 “They're trying to wear us down, I guess,” Marklein said. “But how do you know unless you see the options?”

Staff also did not present alternatives that would be more “sensitive” to neighbors as requested by the entire council.

The council is being asked to vote for one of these three options:

-- Option 1 would cost $9.3 million, and the station would be built on the current site and to the north. It would mean buying seven properties. Firefighters would relocate to a temporary site for about 10 months.

-- Option 2 would cost $9.5 million, and the station would be built just to the north of the current building. It would mean buying 12 properties, one of which is on the National Register of Historic Places. Firefighters could continue to work in the current station, which would be torn down after the new station opens.

--- Option 3 would cost $9.4 million and is essentially Option 1 but would be built in phases so firefighters would not have to move. Council members had asked staff to investigate this possibility.

The floor plans for all options are identical.

Said Marklein: “If they want to set the budget ... I'm going to set it at $8 million and see where the (council) votes are.”

Carl Weber, director of public works, said additional options weren't delivered because neither Marklein nor Severson had made a motion to gauge the support of other council members.

It's hard and costly to provide that information because it is a “moving target,” Weber said.

The city now has only a conceptual design.

“Once we have agreed on what's going to be included in the building and where the site is going to be, then I will direct our construction manager … to do a detailed estimate,” Weber said.

That analysis would take about two weeks, but Weber said he did not allow the construction manager to go any farther until the council “tells me exactly what they want me to build. I don't want to be wasting time and money doing estimates on things we may not be doing.”

“If we're able to make a dramatic reduction (in cost), I'm sure I'd report that,” Weber said.

If the council was to give staff a specific amount, “then we would look at the project and see how we could meet that amount … and (show them), this is what the impact would be on the facility,” Weber said.

Weber stressed that $9.5 million would be the total and include property acquisition. The cost of the building would be about $6.6 million, he said.

Maggie Hrdlicka, management information specialist, said additional, lower-cost options were not generated because staff heard only one council member express a desire to reduce the building's functionality and design.

“The current station design we have on the table is what meets our minimum needs (now) and in the future,” Hrdlicka said.

Cuts would not just affect aesthetics but also would reduce efficiency, she said.

Marklein still wants the conversation about “needs” versus “wants.”

He wants to know, for instance, how many firefighters are on duty at one time.

“Do we really need 12 bathrooms?” he asked. “Can we bunk up and share bedroom space rather than having private dormitories?

“There's hidden in (the plans) a rooftop patio,” he said. “That looks like an expensive perk.”

Fire Chief Jim Jensen said the rooftop already is there, so firefighters might as well put a table out there and use it.

Marklein said a Janesville architectural firm calculated construction cost at $170 per square feet.

"Why don't we see what $160 will buy, $140 or $130--just see what that would bring us?” he asked.

“We still got to think of future needs. I'm not blind to that,” Marklein said. “At the same time, I want to bring this in at a number we can afford.”

Marklein pointed to the new city bus garage as being the “poster child” of how things work if questions aren't asked.

Marklein said his contact with residents lead him to believe “a fair amount of people in this city are in agreement. The city has other important things to spend money on, such as streets."

The city should live like residents who must trim their wish lists, he said.

The entire council has asked for suggestions that would be more “sensitive” to the surrounding residents, presumably by taking fewer properties.

Those options were not included in agenda material, either.

Two property owners have since told city staff they do not want to be one of the few homes stranded in the neighborhood living next to a new fire station if Option 1 is chosen, according to the memo. They worry their home values will fall.

“This has created a conflict between addressing the wishes of the property owners and minimizing their  property acquisition," the memo reads.

How council member votes will total Monday is uncertain.

Councilman Matt Kealy does not support building a new station, while Sam Liebert does.

Councilman Jim Farrell has said he wants to look at different locations.

Councilman Brian Fitzgerald has not indicated how he will vote, while Councilwoman Kathy Voskuil recommended the most expensive option earlier this week as a member of the plan commission.

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