Back in business
Career and volunteer firefighters of the Sandy Fire Department are being welcomed home this week. Two years after construction began on the new station at 17460 Bruns Ave., the crew will all finally be back under one roof.
The project was set to be completed by October 2017, but the department is proving good things are better late than never.
"It's like having all of your kids move out then come home again," Fire Chief Phil Schneider joked. "It's going to be a nice reunion."
Brick by brick
What started out as a renovation of the building in 2016 quickly became a full-on rebuild. The intention of the change to the circa-1969 facility was to upgrade the seismic safety, which was being promoted and required by the state. What's been gained from the rebuild, however, exceeded the department's hopes.
Besides the necessary seismic aspects of the build, the station now features a new and improved living area for the firefighters. Upstairs are 10 dormitories, multiple bathrooms with showers, a state-of-the-art kitchen, workout room and TV room, along with a conference and training room, which will be available for community nonprofit organizations use, and much more. Downstairs, the administrative offices are shielded by protective glass and there is an EMS room equipped with a stretcher, AED and all the needed equipment so walk-in patients can be helped and prepared for transport if needed.
There were a few obstacles in the way throughout the construction process — namely challenging winter weather in 2016 and minor permitting incidents.
All of the heating and lighting is energy — and therefore cost — efficient. The department worked hard to provide the firefighters with a space they could be comfortable in while also being good stewards of taxpayer money.
With the deadline having come and gone, Schneider said the department "got some concessions" from the architectural firm and contractor hired for the remodel. Skyward Construction stopped charging monthly overages, and architects at Mackenzie stopped charging in February.
"We settled with Mackenzie and Skyward," Schneider noted. "We kept on things when we could."
Staying on budget
The final price tag of the project was about $6 million — Schneider originally estimated the bill to be around $5.6 million.
But, Schneider assured, the overage was covered by a contingency fund the department had in place.
"We're excited," Schneider noted. "We just heard we're going to get over $11,000 back from the Energy Trust of Oregon."
Grant funding from the Oregon Infrastructure Finance Authority's Seismic Rehabilitation grant covered $1.2 million of the total cost. The remaining $4.5 million to complete the project came from urban renewal funds, which the city provided and the fire district reserved for this project.
Because of a partnership outlined more than 20 years ago, 10 percent of urban renewal funds are designated for use by the fire district on "brick-and-mortar" projects, such as the rebuilding of a fire station.
"The wonderful partnership with the city and school district are so important." Schneider says, as the school district allowed for fire engines to be kept on school property during construction. "We won't have to go out and ask for any additional money — no additional bonds."
The project is fully funded and will not require the raising of taxes. The department will be selling much of their temporary equipment and structures purchased during construction in an effort to recoup any money possible.
"We tried to treat (the funds) like it was our money," Schneider added. "(And we do) anything we can do to get taxpayers' money back.
Remembering the past
Though the shiny new station has been a big focus of the department for the past few years, as a nod to the past, firefighters decorated their new digs with some memorabilia.
In the kitchen sits a long, rustic wood table, which is the remnants of a large Sequoia tree from outside the old station.
On the outside wall of the building is a plaque commemorating the people involved in the project — Chief Schneider, the architect, the construction company and of course the Fire District Board members from the time of the build, including the late Len Tobias.
Tobias was a 25-year volunteer with the district, and served on the board as chairman until he passed away on March 29.
"He was a big part of this," Schneider said. "He was the chairman throughout most of the project."
The department plans to honor Tobias at the grand opening of the station by presenting a commemorative plaque to his family.
The official ribbon cutting and open house will take place from 2-5 p.m. Saturday, June 23.
"We're really doing it for the community," Schneider noted. "There's been a lot of people who can't wait to see the inside (of the station)."
Schneider added that in place of the traditional ribbon, he hopes to get a red hose for the opening.
The department will also host the Sandy Area Chamber of Commerce's June "Good Morning, Sandy" at 7:30 a.m. Wednesday, June 20.
Besides reopening the station to the public again, Schneider said he'll be completing tasks that have fallen by the wayside during the rebuild, such as writing the fire district's annual policy and procedure reviews and possible new grant materials.
The department recently began using new computer software to track firefighters and department vehicles to better prioritize calls and personnel, within or outside of their jurisdiction.
A new squad SUV was also recently purchased to field medical calls where an engine isn't needed, and a smaller vehicle would be more cost effective. Schneider said 90 percent of their calls are medical.
"It will be nice to get back to focusing on doing what we do," Schneider noted.