By Ann McCreary
Three construction bids for a proposed new Winthrop fire hall for Okanogan County Fire District 6 came in considerably higher than the $2.4 million the district has estimated for the project.
The lowest bid, from Halme Construction of Spokane, was $3,662,570 — about 50 percent over estimated costs. Meridian Construction of Spokane bid $3,991,547 and Ginno Construction of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, bid $4,210,000.
Commissioners Darold Brandenburg and Jerry Palm opened the bids at a meeting on May 12, and looked through them with little comment. Commission Chairman Roy Reiber was out of town.
The district put the project out to bid in March, hoping to open bids April 13. However no bids were submitted in response to the first request for bids, and the district extended the deadline until May.
In an interview after the meeting, Brandenburg said commissioners would wait until the next meeting on June 8 to discuss the bids. “I don’t believe we can sign a contract,” he said.
Brandenburg said the high bid numbers are due to the fact that the district went to bid after the construction season had begun.
“It didn’t surprise me. If we’d put it [the bid package] in last winter we’d be in pretty good shape,” Brandenburg said.
“The timing is off and everybody that’s bidding on it had multiple jobs going. Obviously all the people in Spokane and Coeur d’Alene have work going,” he said.
“Like me,” added Brandenburg, who runs his own local construction company and is busy with projects. “Try to get me to build you a house right now.”
Bids were only accepted from companies that had built a least two other fire stations before. That may also have been a factor in the higher-than-expected bids, said Brandenburg.
The bids were also based on construction continuing through the winter months, and the higher costs associated with winter building. “To get a low bid you have to award a contract so they can have a spring start,” Brandenburg said.
“I was sort of amazed by the numbers,” said George Watson of Watson & Herres, the Spokane architectural firm that designed the proposed 12,000-square-foot station.
Watson told commissioners in March that the budget developed by his firm for the project anticipated bids “to come in at $2.3 million to $2.4 million, at the max.”
His firm has designed “five other stations that came in under $2 million, with the same construction type,” Watson said this week.
“Part of it’s the time of year, everybody’s very busy. The economy has picked up and there is more public work out there than there was before. And it [the project] was going to run into winter,” he said.
“I don’t understand the rest. It’s not an overly designed building. It’s a pretty basic box with walls inside. The commissioners need to make a decision where they want to go from here,” Watson said.
District officials have said in recent meetings that they would try to borrow up to $2.5 million through a low-interest loan program offered by the Washington State Treasurer’s Office to public entities, and submitted an application in March.
The district had previously proposed to finance the new fire station through an increase in property taxes, but the proposed tax levy increase was rejected by district voters in last November’s general election.
District commissioners then said they would move ahead with plans to build the new station and repay construction loans using funds in the district’s budget, a proposal that some district residents said could jeopardize the district’s financial stability.
An independent financial analysis requested by the district concluded the district could afford up to $2.5 million for the project, but only with a low-interest loan through the state treasurer.
The district purchased five acres on Horizon Flats in Winthrop about five years ago with the intention of building a new fire hall to replace the building they currently lease from the Town of Winthrop.
District officials and firefighters say the current Winthrop station is too small and presents safety risks to firefighters who must prepare for fire calls in cramped space near moving fire trucks.