Building or renovating your fire station - what does it cost?

CarolinaFireJournal - By Brian Griffith and John Kelley
By Brian Griffith and John Kelley Bobbitt Design Build
01/11/2012 -
Most fire departments ask two questions when circumstances require that they either build a new station or renovate and/or build an addition to their existing facility. Those questions are, “What does it cost?” and “When can we move in?” If your department is in this position, this article will attempt to assist in answering the first question. image

Obviously, the building size, the site conditions and the systems and materials used will impact the total cost. Several other factors, however, should be considered. These can include:

  • Information investments to provide better design.
  • Planning for future needs.
  • Initial Cost versus Life Cycle Cost.
  • Future maintenance costs.
Information Investment

There are many professional engineers and consultants who can provide valuable input into the design and construction of a project. These services can cover a broad spectrum of disciplines and not every project will require the same level of services. While there are costs associated with these services, the benefits of the knowledge gained from these professionals outweigh the cost.

One service that is beneficial to most projects is the early involvement of a geotechnical engineer who performs a site analysis and soil borings. Generally, the greatest potential for the escalation of the cost of the project is a result of unforeseen or differing site conditions. Performing the site analysis can assist the site designers with determining the building location, finish grades and proper pavement design to support the weight of the department’s equipment. This information will also help the structural engineer design a proper foundation and structure for the building.

Early discovery of poor or unsuitable conditions such as expansive soils or rock could eliminate a potential site for consideration or allow for renegotiation of the land cost.

Planning for Future Needs

While we would all like to build a new station that would meet the department’s and the community’s needs for the next 50 years, the current economic climate and budgetary restraints may place limitations on the project. If this is the case, shouldn’t the building design allow for future growth or changing the use of some of the spaces as the needs of the department change? Shouldn’t the HVAC and electrical systems be sized to accommodate future growth? If sleeping quarters are not currently planned but may be required in the near future, shouldn’t provisions for a sprinkler system and fire separation be made? Planning for these items in advance will reduce the impact of, or even the need for, future interior renovation and demolition and repair of site components such as concrete, asphalt and landscaping.

Initial Cost versus Life Cycle Cost

A common term used today is “return on investment” (ROI). Providing components or systems today that have a higher initial cost but operate more efficiently or have a longer useful life may result in future savings which offset the extra initial cost. The less time required for the savings to surpass the initial cost, the better the investment will likely be. Examples of such investments could include upgrading the insulation in the roof and walls, installing an HVAC system with a higher SEER rating, installing light fixtures that use compact fluorescent or LED lights, installing a tankless water heater and many others.

Future Maintenance Costs

Another component of Life Cycle Cost is the potential cost of future maintenance. These could be direct costs or indirect costs that may have an effect on the environment. These costs should be considered when the final materials selections are made. Virtually all of the exterior and interior materials selections could affect future maintenance costs. Various materials, of course, have different maintenance requirements. Selecting the correct material for the space and intended use should reduce both wear and the need for additional maintenance.

Examples include flooring, wall treatments and can even extend to the landscaping. Installing indigenous plants or including natural landscaping can reduce the need for maintenance and irrigation, subsequently providing a savings in water usage.

The simple question, “How much does it cost?” leads to a series of questions and decisions that must be addressed in order to arrive at the final cost. There is no “right” answer that fits all situations. Each decision must be made by the department, balancing their needs and those of the community with what their budget will allow. Your design and building professionals will be able to assist you in the process.

John Kelley is Vice President at Bobbitt Design Build. Brian Griffith, AIA, LEED AP is Senior Designer of Bobbitt Design Build.
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