By Ross Darling
The primary justification put forth by Okanogan County Fire District 6 for a new fire station in Winthrop was that the existing building was not safe for firefighters due to limited clearances around the fire trucks. This was agreed upon by almost everyone and the need for a new facility has been generally accepted.
The new building which was proposed, while meeting all safety requirements, was certainly not in any way similar to the old building or any other structure the district has in use today. This in part is the reason that twice the voters have turned down the commissioners’ proposed building. The building proposed is much more than needed at this time and of a construction technique that is overly expensive.
The commissioners to date have done nothing to address either of these concerns and in fact are considering the purchase of another piece of property in addition to the one they are still paying for. They are even considering retaining both properties.
What is the potential total cost for this project assuming the proposed building and two parcels of land? The cost of the building with the additional piece of property and the increase of construction costs over the past few years could now be as much as $3 million. The interest expense on a bond is currently running about 3 percent. The district has not discussed the terms of the bond or its length or rating but it could run from $500,000 to $1,500,000 for interest expense on the bond alone.
The building cost would then be from $3.5 million to $4.5 million depending on interest expense of the bond. However, the district has already spent more than $1 million on this project with the purchase of the first piece of property, architectural and engineering fees, lawyer fees, surveying costs and the public relations firm hired to explain to the taxpayer why we needed such a building. That brings the grand total to a possible $4.5 million to $5.5 million.
Taxpayers are simply not going to approve such an expenditure. What is needed is a no-frills building designed to expand as needed and contain the basics to meet safety concerns. The commissioners should build the building on the existing property which the district purchased for the purpose of a new station years ago and not purchase the additional property.
A steel building needs to be researched and costs compared to the proposed building. The commissioners need to look at the Town of Twisp’s new steel public works building and Lifeline Ambulance’s new steel building in Omak.
Those buildings appear to be much more cost-effective per square foot versus the proposed structure. A recent analysis of a new building at the Smokejumper facility showed a steel building costing approximately half that of a block-and-brick construction.
Fire District 6 Commissioners, please show us the option of a steel building and a scaled-down building to put on the existing fire station property. If you show us you do care about our tax dollars you just might get a new fire hall in Winthrop.
Ross Darling lives in Twisp. He was a member of the fire district’s advisory board.