Bedford’s Annual Town Meeting begins in 13 weeks. And the Fire Station Building Committee’s discussions are starting to redirect toward cost.
Sean Schmigle, lead architect on the project, briefed the committee at its Nov. 20 meeting on the timetable for fine-tuning the price that Town Meeting will be asked to accept.
Like the proverbial elephant on the coffee table, however, the committee also remains focused on the details of the way the fire station will look from The Great Road. Since the site is within the Bedford Center Historic District, the Historic District Commission must approve the design’s appropriateness before anything can happen on the site, including demolition. The commission’s next meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, Dec. 6.
Schmigle said his firm – Kaestle Boos Associates – and the owner’s project manager, PMA Consultants, next month will submit details to separate cost estimators. Schmigle said the detailed estimate packages should be ready around Jan. 5, when they can be reconciled and presented to the Building Committee at its Jan. 22 meeting.
The goal is to present an accurate cost proposal estimate to Annual Town Meeting, which will open on March 28.
The Select Board, meeting simultaneously on Nov. 20, agreed to invite the Finance and Capital Expenditure Committees to a meeting in early January, hoping to review the fire station cost.
Finance Committee Chair Ben Thomas suggested an earlier cost estimate to help with planning, but Select Board member Emily Mitchell, who serves on the Building Committee, felt that would force a defensive posture at town meeting if the number subsequently increased. “I think we are going to have a challenging budget this year, so the earlier we get talking about this the better,” Thomas said.
If voters approve the bond, preparation of construction documents will start right away, Schmigle told the Building Committee. Bids will be invited around the middle of July and opened around the end of August. If a bid is selected, construction could start in mid-September, with a completion target of March 2026, he said.
In answer to a question from committee Chair Jeff Cohen, Schmigle said that escalations, including a 10 percent contingency, will be built into the schematic design budget.
Some cities and towns prefer to work with a construction bid before seeking approval, Schmigle noted, rather than what’s happening here: go to town meeting with an estimated budget.
There was some concern about the timetable. Building Committee member Angelo Colasante said, “I would much rather have more accurate documents than to rush forward and misunderstand the market, then have to come back and ask for more money.”
In answer to a question from Colasante, Assistant Town Manager Amy Fidalgo said that if the fire station project isn’t on the March Town Meeting warrant, it would be part of the fall Special Town Meeting agenda. “My concern is making sure we have the right number with this tight schedule,” she added.
“In the construction market things are coming down,” Colasante said. “Maybe the further we go, we are going to get more competitive prices.”
Colasante also asked the committee to consider keeping non-operational departmental programming at the current fire station, reducing the size of the new project. Lt. Mark Daly, a committee member, said there isn’t much that can be separated. “We are talking about major changes right now at this stage of the game. If we are looking at all of these challenges, maybe this isn’t the right location.”
Suzanne Koller predicted that many voters would then point to a substation as an alternative.
Koller also said she has learned of a contiguous landlocked parcel to the west of the site that could be used for parking or storage. Then the planned facility could be relocated farther off The Great Road, she said. But Mitchell was “concerned this would push us back definitely another year” because of the land acquisition process.
Cohen and Colasante urged that the group provide the Historic District Commission with design details and renderings from different perspectives. Commission member Jennifer McClain, sitting in as a spectator, reminded that only views that can be seen from the street will be needed.
Schmigle said his firm’s civil engineers and landscape architects are looking for ways to minimize the impact of the slope on the site. “Our civil team is reviewing the impact of retaining walls on neighboring trees,” he added.
“The design team has done an incredible job managing the site and all the challenges,” said committee member Jeffrey Dearing.