Architecture for Firefighters #12

CarolinaFireJournal - By Jim McClure
By Jim McClure
10/26/2015 -

I started this column three years ago writing about understanding firehouse building plans and specifications. In my first column, (Winter 2013), I wrote that the “devil is in the details.” I hope you understand that sometimes I needed to pull back from the details, get out of the weeds and show you a view of the process from 10,000 feet.


This is one of those times when we will be telescoping back and forth. I have two separate email conversations that revolve around design, money and schedule. Those three words are inseparable. You have to be aware of costs throughout the design process from first sketch to beyond the ribbon cutting.

This first email string is a result of the consulting architect’s cost estimate coming in at $733,000 over the budget, which triggered a Value Engineering (VE) process. There is a slight hint of panic in the emails.

Email #1
From: Project Architect Louise
To: Everyone
Cc: Principle Design Architect
Sent: 3/21/2008 9:42 AM

0524500.30 (Fire Station No. 2) - Plan Changes

Attached are three options for your review. I have also included cost estimates for making the changes to the drawings; these do not include any construction costs. There is also a time frame adjustment to make all the changes in six weeks. This is assuming there are no additional comments from the construction document set previously submitted to the city. At this time we have only received Jim McClure’s Architectural comments. If you have any questions please feel free to contact me.

Option 2a - $21,400.00

Option 3a - $22,600.00

Option 4a - $21,400.00

Project Architect Louise

Email #2
From: Supervising City Architect Ralph
Sent: Friday, March 21, 2008 1:21 PM
To: Everyone
Cc: Principle Design Architect
RE: 0524500.30 (Fire Station No. 2) - Plan Changes

Thank you for the sketches, we’ll review and respond in the next day or so (probably Monday). The timeframe for production seems to have doubled however. The Principle Design Architect mentioned on several occasions that the changes proposed could be achieved in three weeks. Does the six-week timeframe include an allowance for city review and comment before final publication for bid? Also it looks like option 3a has the least changes to the structural components (brace frames) and first floor plan layout outside of adding the new stair. Does this option have a quicker turnaround?

Supervising City Architect Ralph


Email #3
From: Consulting Architect Louise
Sent: Friday, March 21, 2008 1:33 PM
To: Everybody
Cc: Senior Design Architect
RE: 0524500.30 (Fire Station No. 2) - Plan Changes

Supervising City Architect

The six-week turn around includes the two weeks for review comments from the city. However, it did increase by one week due to Structural issues with placement of brace frames; shear walls and the change in the roof diaphragm.

After talking to John, our Structural Engineer, Options 2a and 4a will need an additional brace frame added on the North side of the stair and possibly more structural additions as the shear walls have moved and changed. Option 3a has issues with the moved shear walls and the diaphragm being cut into for the new stair location. There may be more structural additions, but John just did a quick look to determine. No matter what option is chosen there are structural calculations and details that will need to be redone.

I hope I explained that so that you can make an informed decision, but if you have more questions just give me a call or email. Thanks.

Consulting Architect Louise


Email #4
From: City Architect
Sent: Tuesday, March 25, 2008 10:06 AM
To: Design Architects
Cc: Everyone
Subject: Fire Station #2 – Notice To Proceed (NTP) w/ Option 4a of Senior Design Architect’s email of 3/21/08

As I just mentioned to you on the phone, please consider this as a formal notification to proceed with Option 4a. We would of course like to minimize the changes (that you need to make) and therefore please resolve the question of the additional brace frame with John M. at your earliest. May be you can send me revised dates for completion of documents for bidding purposes. This should, of course include all the 100 percent mark-ups corrections.

We plan to accomplish this work as “Additional Services.” The catch here, though, is that we have approximately $16k left in your (Additional Services) agreement. If additional funding is needed, we may have to go through the ‘amendment’ process and/or internally move remaining funds (in your agreement). Both of these can be pretty lengthy and time-consuming processes. So, in the interest of expediting this project, please do the needful. Let me know if you need further clarification or information.


City Architect



I’m back. You may have noticed none of the emails are mine. My job was to make sure there was no loss of functionality. From my perspective we came out ahead and I did not have to do much.

As you can see we picked Option 4a but only after I modified it some. That empty room on the right side became the crew’s bathroom and the bathroom next to it stayed so the public could use it without entering the living space. The three major electrical panels that would have been in the empty room were moved to the upstairs hallway. I mentioned them in a previous issue. The bookcase moved from the left side of the hall to the right side and the two storage closets became one. Do you think we actually saved any money? Of course not. I wrote about what happened next in the winter 2015 issue. This is the project we paid $60,000 to have the architect stop for several months and then restart.

Which brings us to Round Two. Once we started up again months later there was still concerns about the budget. This brings us to a process I have not mentioned before; Add Alternatives, Add Alts for short. This is where we take one or more items, spaces, finishes, or materials out of the Base Bid and put it as an Add Alt. What happens next is a crapshoot. Yes, we are rolling the dice. IF, the Base Bid comes in lower than the estimate than we can start buying back the items we took out. If the Base Bid is over the budget, then you don’t get the items you took out or you are stuck with the less expensive and maybe inferior products for your project. Just so you know, there was public art designated in the concrete plaza in front of the building. It was intricate.


Email #1
From: City Architect
Sent: Thursday, August 14, 2008 10:55 AM
To: Everyone
Subject: Fire Station #2 - Additive Add Alternates

Supervising City Architect

As you directed, we are proceeding with the following identified Add Alternates prior to bid:

  1. Asphalt paving throughout the staff parking area (base) versus concrete.
  2. Plain concrete paving (base) versus colored concrete radial bands.
  3. Stucco siding (base) versus metal siding finishes.
  4. Deletion of the front fin structural element (base).

Further analysis and discussion with the consultants indicate that the first three items are straight forward and rather easy to implement. The fourth item seems to be much more complicated than it may first appear for the following reasons:

  1. It is a structural element that is deeply engaged into the building. Consequently, the structural sub-consultant needs to revise and modify the entire impacted front portion of the building. This exercise, along with our review process may not meet our latest agreed upon schedule of going out to bid by the end of next week. Additionally, while there would be some cost saving, the consultant would claim compensation for the resulted additional services effort.
  2. The deletion of this element — that holds the flagpole and station signage — would impact the architectural, structural and civil and landscape disciplines. Thus, creating a further delay in the deliveries.

We have requested that the consultant provide us with a construction cost estimate breakdown of each of the above items, plus the cost of the revisions and estimated completion of additional design services.

Please advice.


City Architect


Email #2
From: Principle Design Architect
Sent: Monday, August 18, 2008 2:15 PM
To: Consulting Architect
Cc: McClure, Jim
Subject: RE: 0524500.30 (San Jose Fire Station No. 2) - Add Alternates

See my comments below.


Email #3
From: City Staff Sam
Sent: Friday, August 15, 2008 5:41 PM
To: Consulting Architect
Subject: RE: 0524500.30 (San Jose Fire Station No. 2) - Add Alternates


Sorry for the late response, please see my comments in red below.



Email 4
From: Consulting Architect
Sent: Friday, August 15, 2008 1:30 PM
To: City Staff Sam
Cc: City Architect, McClure, Jim; Design Architect, City Architect
Subject: 0524500.30 (San Jose Fire Station No. 2)
Add Alternates

To All-

The following email is to confirm the add alternates requested on Wednesday, August 13, 2008 via phone and phone message. If I have anything wrong please get back to me because I have the consultants estimating the design change costs. Once I receive the design costs changes I will forward the numbers to you. At that time I need direction on whether or not to proceed with the alternate changes to the documents. If you have any questions please call or email. Thank you so much.

Base Bid:

  1. Change flagpole to a ground mount flagpole with or without lighting? Change signage to a ground monument with or without lighting? Change signage to a building mounted signage with alterations to the public artwork? Delete from the base bid. No change to plans and specifications given the net savings of $30,000.
  2. Change front entry walkway to standard gray concrete with square (90 degree) edges. Change scoring pattern in Response Driveway to square (90 degree) lines with standard gray concrete. Yes, okay to proceed.
  3. Remove all metal siding from building and change to stucco. Does this mean more paint colors are needed? No Design Architect - colors originally picked, as metal siding will now be paint on stucco. Should the color board be put on hold until after the bidding is complete and the city has made a decision on which Alternates are being accepted? Yes, the color board is a comment for city approval currently. Yes, okay to proceed.
  4. Change all (concrete in response driveway, return driveway, work yard) No and staff and visitor parking area (only) to asphalt. (I am verifying with the Geotechnical the thickness of the asphalt because four inches, in our experience, is not enough thickness for fire trucks even when it is placed on 10 inch of base. We did not worry about this originally because it was to be eight inch concrete over six inch of base, which is what we normally design for. There is concern from the “Owner” regarding the durability and cost of asphalt versus concrete.) Don’t need to redesign now.

Base bid will have asphalt paving for the staff and guest parking, concrete in all other areas as shown on the plans.

Add Alternates:

  1. Flagpole Structure (Design Architect sent an email this morning regarding the design cost). Is the building structure to be changed with this alternate or is it to be used with a cut off section of steel? No, we will keep as designed.
  2. Radial Concrete design at the front entry walkway with City Architect previously sent additional concrete and radials at 22.5 degrees. Yes, okay to proceed.
  3. Metal siding at front elevations to be installed according to the current plans. Yes, okay to proceed.
  4. Concrete response driveway, return driveway, work yard, and parking area. Staff and guest parking areas only. Is the radial design to be included in the response driveway or an additional alternate? Let’s discuss on Monday.
  5. Public artwork of tile to front entry. The installation will be changed to six inch concrete with a two-inch depression for the artist to install the tile in the entire front entry area. Will this be on the condition that the radial concrete design is accepted first or does the area need to be designed for square concrete and radial concrete? Let’s discuss on Monday.




OK I’m back. Let’s wrap this up.

For the record, I was opposed to items three and four. Metal siding is more durable and requires less painting than stucco. Concrete under your tires is better than asphalt. Ironically, the one of the two most expensive items stayed. The steel frame that projected from the building to carry the flagpole stayed. You might have picked up in the email chain that it was not just an added piece of steel but was tied into the rest of the steel framing. It would have cost more to pull it out.

Double irony; by the time we bid this project the economy had soured and the bid came in 20 percent less than the original estimate and we got everything we wanted back into the scope of the project. So, we spent a lot of time and money trying to save money that we did not need to save. Of, course, we did not know that at the time.

The take away here is that the design process is complicated and you have to understand the entire process if you want your project to succeed.

See you in three months.

Jim McClure is the owner of Firehouse Design and Construction (FD&C). The mission of FD&C is “to help firefighters, architects and government agencies design and build maintainable, durable, and most importantly, functional firehouses.” McClure’s career in public safety spans almost 29 years. For more information visit,, call 408-603-4417 or email [email protected].
Comments & Ratings

There is no comment.

Your Name
Enter the code

Daily Fire / EMS News

A collection of Fire / EMS -related news from around the web!

Get Aggregated RSS

View the full Fire - Rescue - EMS News section
for more articles

About the Carolina Fire Rescue EMS Journal

Welcome to the Carolina Fire Rescue EMS Journal! We want to provide you with timely online information and breaking news that best equips you to meet today’s emergency challenges. Among our firefighting articles, you will find the latest in firefighter technology, firefighter training, leadership development and the newest products and services presented in an “Act Now” user friendly format.  We want to be your best online source for the fire and rescue information, resources and reviews you need.
Regional Impact, National in Scope
  • Delivered free of charge to ALL fire departments, ambulance bays, rescue squads and hazmat teams in North and South Carolina
  • Quarterly circulation includes: fire academies, industry related technical schools and colleges and all major apparatus manufacturers
  • Regional & National trade show distribution
  • Largest circulated regional industry trade publication subscription base