Why new Fire Station 32 isn’t under construction yet – more than a half-year after old one was vacated, 9 years behind original levy schedule

(From Fire Station 32 “schematic design” packet dated August 2013, by Bohlin Cywinski Jackson)

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

The rebuild of West Seattle’s Fire Station 32 is now running nine years behind the schedule that was originally projected when voters passed the levy to fund it and a tall stack of other projects.

We’ve learned that its construction is now not expected to start until early next year – which will be about a year after its crews were moved to interim locations.

When the station’s Engine 32 and Ladder 11 moved to a temporary site early this year, demolition of the original station was supposedly imminent. But more than half a year has passed, with no sign of work. After a reader e-mailed to ask what was going on, so we started looking into it.

What we’ve learned is that it’s going out to bid again – and now it appears that Station 32’s crews will have been out of the old location a full year by the time the teardown begins, meaning they’ll be in temporary quarters for about two years. (E-32 and L-11 are now in temporary structures on city-owned land that’s set for a future park, along 40th SW between Alaska and Edmunds, while Medic 32 is currently based at Station 37 in Sunrise Heights.)

The Station 32 rebuild was part of the $167 million Fire Levy approved by voters in 2003. It was a nine-year levy, so property owners aren’t paying it any more. But the presentation given to the City Council that year promised the city would “implement the program over the shortest possible time period to minimize the risks of inflation.” Page 19, the program schedule, shows the Station 32 project as expected to be complete by the end of 2007:

And now, as the end of 2015 approaches, this project hasn’t even started construction yet.

Design started three years ago, as noted on the periodic status/schedule reports posted on the Fire Levy website. (The most recent status/schedule report, however, posted less than a month ago, shows the site as under construction, which it is not.)

Fire Levy projects are now managed by the city’s Finance and Administrative Services department. When we checked with FAS last winter, a spokesperson told us (as reported here) demolition and construction was expected to start by late February – of this year.

Responding to our latest inquiry, FAS spokesperson Cyndi Wilder tells us the project has to go out to bid again:

Initially, this project was bid out through an alternative contract method called general contractor/construction manager (GC/CM), which allowed the general contractor to assist in the design process through a pre-construction services contract. The GC/CM process, following design, allows the City the option to negotiate with a selected construction firm to determine an appropriate construction cost.

The City and the contractor were unable to agree upon a negotiated cost that fits within the City budget. This week, the City is in the process of cancelling the pre-construction contract and will quickly move to a traditional bidding process for construction, where the entire construction contract will be awarded to the lowest responsive and responsible bidder. We anticipate beginning demolition on the old Fire Station 32 facility in the first quarter of 2016.

According to the project’s city webpage, the GC/CM contract had been awarded to BNBuilders (which has its own page for the project here).

We don’t know what if anything the schedule changes have cost the city. The project is budgeted at $18.6 million, according to the latest online financial report; the actual construction cost was cited at $10.6 million in various places including this solicitation for subcontractors, under the BN Builders contract. The new FS 32 was designed by Bohlin Cywinski Jackson (BCJ), whose designs were shown to the community at this 2014 open house.

The Fire Levy has an Oversight Committee that still meets periodically, with its next meeting scheduled for December 15th. Its meeting minutes are online, but recent editions have few details other than who was in attendance and the number of projects in progress. Earlier, more detailed sets of minutes shine some light on the overall delay, first indicating that some early challenges included big project-cost inflation in the first few years after the levy’s passage, with some of the cost increases attributed to factors such as China buying much of the world’s steel and estimates having been based on “suburban” fire stations rather than “urban.” The earliest mention we found of FS 32 in meeting minutes was November 2007, when its architect was about to be announced; BCJ was described as being in “pre-design” as of the July 2008 meeting minutes. At the November 2008 meeting, several postponements were announced, and at that time, the committee was told that Station 32 would be done in 2011. The next year, the project was listed as “being deferred” due to the shortfall in Real Estate Excise Tax received by the city. Later in 2009, meeting minutes said the project would start in 2010; toward the end of that year, a new delay – a request to search for a different site. The next mention of a new schedule came in 2011 – when it was declared to be starting in 2012. Then suddenly the February 2012 minutes say FS 32 would be complete “after 2015.” Every set of minutes from that year says the same thing, and then the specific mentions cease.

P.S. West Seattle’s Station 37, mentioned above as interim home to one of FS 32’s units, was a levy project too – shown on that original 2003 schedule as expected to be finished by the end of 2007, opened three years after that. Other local levy projects include upgrades at Station 36 (North Delridge), Station 11 (Highland Park), and Station 29 (Admiral); the first two are complete, the third still under way (and, like FS 32, listed on that City Council pre-levy presentation as projected for completion by 2008).

23 Replies to "Why new Fire Station 32 isn't under construction yet - more than a half-year after old one was vacated, 9 years behind original levy schedule"

  • Jeanie October 6, 2015 (3:55 pm)

    Thanks for your thorough research in investigating this.

  • Born on Alki 59 October 6, 2015 (4:41 pm)

    So many project managers, such little common sense. Typical City of Seattle planning. Imho.

  • old timer October 6, 2015 (4:52 pm)

    And the City will be looking for almost a billion dollars for more ‘projects’?

  • flimflam October 6, 2015 (5:16 pm)

    seriously, old timer, why would any sane person trust this city (especially with current “leadership”) to wisely spend money? I will be nauseous if the billion dollar levy passes.

  • dsa October 6, 2015 (5:54 pm)

    Have they explained the seawall overrun yet? How is that bill getting paid?

  • WSince86 October 6, 2015 (6:05 pm)

    So, educate those that don’t know and let’s not let this levy pass! Make your voice heard. Get out and VOTE people!!

  • Drdcla October 6, 2015 (6:40 pm)

    Please do not vote to approve the upcoming 9.3 million dollar levy. This will not only raise property taxes it will also raise rents which we all know are becoming out of reach for many working people. Let the mayor find this money elsewhere. Maybe from all the building going on in the city. Oh, I forgot that’s who has the mayor’s favor. Let the property owners pay. I think he forgets who elected him to be our mayor.

  • Neighbor October 6, 2015 (7:39 pm)

    Both D1 candidates for city council support taxing homeowners without holding the mayor accountable for spending. Go figure. Where is the Lander overpass that was to have been funded and built using levy money? Murray’s Bertha project which he swore from Olympia would be on time and on budget. Zero accountability with these levies and it’s no wonder the city uses property owners at an ATM. Will be voting no on the Move Seattle levy because there have been too many fiascos under this Mayor.

  • SlopeStyleJ October 6, 2015 (7:48 pm)

    I’d like to know what percentage of city construction projects are done right, on-time, and on-budget, when awarded to lowball bidders (even if they are “responsible” and “responsive,” whatever that means). In my experience with construction projects, you absolutely get what you pay for. Contracts awarded based on cost alone endup being more expensive with more delays than by just awarding the contract to the best all-around bid to begin with.

  • Mr Matt October 6, 2015 (9:25 pm)

    So… wait… Maybe I missed it but where did the money from the no-longer-being-paid-for 2003 levy go?

  • Azimuth October 6, 2015 (10:11 pm)

    SlopeStyleJ, you are right about the low-bid thing. Low-bid is nice in theory but doesn’t usually work in practice. I have worked in construction and have always been very suspicious when most of the bids are clustered around a certain value but there is one low-bid outlier. Sometimes the contracts state lowest bid wins but the contractor will make up the difference either with inferior methods, materials, or will abuse change orders. We all pay for it sooner or later.

  • Dr. Bob October 6, 2015 (11:07 pm)

    And yet… and yet, y’all keep voting in the same type of knuckleheads.

  • Don Schei October 7, 2015 (3:22 am)

    I have come to the conclusion that the management of the City of Seattle needs to be outsourced to one of the German cities. Seriously, naïve project management with no clear goals, strategies, or hard schedules is embarrassing.

  • Out for a walk October 7, 2015 (5:30 am)

    Thanks for superb reporting.

  • Mark schletty October 7, 2015 (8:05 am)

    Wow. Now lets vote for a billion dollar levy that’s almost completely open ended and see what doesn’t get done.

  • AceMotel October 7, 2015 (9:56 am)

    ah this is so unacceptable. This will be the first levy where I’ll vote NO, with impunity.

  • Trickycoolj October 7, 2015 (10:38 am)

    Wow. That levy passed when I graduated high school. I turn 31 tomorrow. Good job Seattle.

  • GlacierK October 7, 2015 (12:11 pm)

    I feel bad for the fire fighters living in portables for an extra year because the city can’t get it’s act together. All this time, while the station sits empty. Lets face it, at this point it will be AT LEAST an extra year. Morale can’t be great.

  • Triangle resident October 7, 2015 (3:43 pm)

    Since the station was vacated there have furniture dumped on the site, trash is piling up, homeless in the alley and seems the granite memorial dedicated that sits on the Alaska street side wasn’t worthy of the move, even temporarily. Someone needs to keep the site cleaned up and in the winter, the live springs coming down the hill create an ice rink every year on the very sidewalk to rapid ride. Who’s responsibility is it to maintain until construction begins?

  • Robert October 7, 2015 (9:46 pm)

    ANYTIME a politican gets his hands on construction money things get stickey, in more ways than one . bid-buddies, political supporters,not the elastic type, and plain old in-compitence.rear their collective heads.. the city needs to BUY AMERICAN,,STEEL,CONCRETE,MATERIAL keep the money local,[china is not local],local contractors that live here not in some other state.build something that you can be proud of ..not slap it together and run,before it starts to fall apart….

  • soi October 8, 2015 (7:37 am)

    Yes, it was China’s fault! Evidently it was so bad, nothing was built in that 9 year span in Seattle. Good grief!

  • LStephens October 8, 2015 (6:47 pm)

    Happy Birthday Trickycoolj! Best wishes for a wonderful day!!

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