Deadline will be extended to May 12
By Ann McCreary
Commissioners had hoped to open bids Monday (April 13) for construction of a new Winthrop fire station for Okanogan County Fire District 6, but instead found themselves with no bids to consider.
“This is not good news for us,” said Commissioner Darold Brandenburg.
“That’s a first. I’ve never seen that,” said George Watson of Watson & Herres Architects in Spokane, who designed the proposed new fire station building.
“There’s a lot of work out there,” Watson said. The fire district project was competing with many other public construction jobs, he said.
Contractors may be choosing to bid on projects close to home, Watson said, adding that he had received numerous calls from contractors wanting information about the project after it was put out to bid in March.
The project plans were made available to contractors at plan centers in Wenatchee and Spokane, Herres said. The district stipulated that only contractors who have constructed at least two fire stations in the past five years could submit bids.
At Watson’s recommendation, fire commissioners decided to extend the bid deadline until May 12, and re-advertise the project more broadly.
“It puts it back out into the street,” Watson said.
Waiting another month for bids creates a time crunch for the fire district, which is hoping to borrow up to $2.5 million through a program offered by the Washington State Treasurer’s office, to allow construction to begin this year.
The district submitted its application for the loan last month, and it is being reviewed, said Wendy Kancianich of the treasurer’s office.
If the loan is approved, the district will need to submit to the treasurer’s office a signed contract with a builder by June 1 in order obtain a loan to begin construction this year, Kancianich said Tuesday (April 14).
That means the district will need to receive bids and sign a construction contract between May 12, when commissioners would open bids, and June 1. Commissioners set a meeting date of May 28 with the goal of signing a contract.
Kancianich said there may be some flexibility in the June 1 deadline, but if the district is not able to award a contract by early June, “the next cycle to obtain funding would be March 2016.”
The treasurer’s office provides low interest loans to government entities, including cities, towns and special taxing districts. Since 2003, Fire District 6 has obtained funding through the treasurer’s office to purchase six fire vehicles. Brandenburg said contractors who were not awarded other contracts might choose to bid on the fire station when the deadline is extended.
“They’re going to start sharpening their pencils, but I don’t know if it will be in time,” he said.
District commissioners and Fire Chief Don Waller have said in previous discussions that the actual cost of building a new station, which they have estimated at about $2.4 million, will be known once bids are received. Now they have to wait another month for those figures.
“On the 12th we’ll know the dollar amount,” Brandenburg said.
An independent financial analysis of the district’s borrowing capacity conducted earlier this year concluded that obtaining low-interest loans through the state treasurer would be the only way the district could afford to finance construction of the new station. Regular commercial loans would have higher interest rates and would be too expensive, the analysis concluded.
District officials had hoped to pay for the proposed new 12,000-square-foot fire hall on Horizon Flats through an increase in property taxes, but their effort to pass a levy lid lift was rejected by district voters in last November’s general election.
Commissioners then decided to move ahead with plans to build the new fire hall using funds within the district’s budget, a decision that prompted questions and concerns from some community members.
District officials say the new station is needed to replace a fire hall currently leased from the Town of Winthrop that is too small and creates safety hazards for firefighters, who must get into their gear in tight spaces next to moving fire trucks.