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Officials defend plans for stations

Imagine living in a house with separate air conditioners for each bedroom, quartz countertops in the kitchen and a feature that automatically shuts off the A/C if your kids open a window.

These and other amenities found in high-end homes are included in the proposed design on the three Medford fire stations that face a $3.4 million cost overrun.

The Mail Tribune obtained drawings and other documents prepared for the city that describe some of the expenses involved in the fire stations.

City officials say the features of the buildings are designed to withstand years of use and are anything but lavish.

“I’ve heard that complaint already,” Councilor Michael Zarosinski said. “These aren’t that over the top.”

Other design features such as extensive use of glass and a proposed flat-roof design have been undergoing design changes to bring down costs. The glass alone for Fire Station 3 was bid at about $70,000.

In the seven bedrooms — one for each firefighter on duty — in Fire Station 3 on Highland Drive, a separate air conditioner and a thermostat is planned for each room. Likewise, the battalion chief’s bedroom and adjoining bathroom would have their own air-conditioning system.

In addition, there are three separate air-conditioning units for the rest of the 6,800 square feet of living space. The apparatus bays are heated separately.

To control this array of air conditioners, a sophisticated computer module that can be accessed remotely has a price tag approaching $50,000.

All three fire stations are designed to be “essential services” buildings, which can survive an earthquake or some other disaster.

Earlier this month, the council learned the city was up to $6 million short of covering the projected construction costs of the new police station and three new fire stations. The police station’s shortfall was pared back from $1.6 million to just under $1 million. An almost $1 million facade to improve the look of the police station parking garage has also been dropped.

Councilors will discuss the fire stations today at their noon meeting. The city is considering rebuilding fire stations 2 and 4 and tabling work on Fire Station 3, at the roundabout on Siskiyou Boulevard in east Medford. Fire Station 2, at the corner of Lincoln and Eighth streets in west Medford, is considered the most outdated. Fire Station 4 on Table Rock Road is used for training firefighters.

The council recently agreed it couldn’t accept changing the design of the fire stations from flat-roof to a slightly less expensive gable roof similar to the 15-year-old fire station on Barnett Road.

Susan Scott, a commercial estimator for Hoag Roofing in Medford, said flat roofs require a membrane-type roof that is typically the most expensive to install.

Membrane roofing also has the shortest lifetime warranty. For the top-end variety, the warranty is usually 20 years, Scott said.

Another reason membrane roofs cost more is that they often have insulation under the membrane layer. One advantage to a flat-roof design is the ability to install air-conditioning units on top, a common feature on commercial buildings.

Another option would be a gable roof with asphalt shingles, which are typical for residential construction. Scott said the cheapest and thinnest varieties come with a 30-year warranty. More expensive asphalt shingles come with 40- or 50-year warranties.

The longest-lasting style of roof is metal, Scott said. The warranty on the paint finish is typically 25 to 30 years, but the metal itself lasts indefinitely, she said.

Hoag has installed metal roofs on fire stations in Grants Pass.

Medford Fire Chief Brian Fish said he remembers someone saying a membrane roof would be good for 50 years.

Separate air conditioners are being installed because firefighters have complained about some rooms being too cold while others are too hot.

“Some guys are complainers and some aren’t,” Fish said. “We’ve had people fight over the thermostat all day long.”

He said the firefighters who complained the most have since retired.

Fish said he wasn’t aware of the specific surface for the counters, but he said firefighters need an “indestructible” counter that can withstand a lot of wear and tear. He also said the latest designs have reduced the amount of glass in the buildings to help bring down costs.

Even with some of the reductions, he said, it might not come close to erasing most of the $3.4 million cost overrun. He conceded that means it's possible only two new fire stations would be built instead of three. Each station has a construction cost estimate of $3.7 million to $4 million.

Despite the strength of the buildings, they are being made mostly with wood studs rather than steel studs, which are more commonly seen in commercial buildings. Fish said the city opted for wood over steel at an earlier phase in the design to save costs.

Zarosinski, who has sat in on some of the planning meetings for the fire stations, defended the buildings' plans.

He said there's "nothing unconventional"  with a flat roof, especially for a commercial structure and it’s also not uncommon to have multiple heating and cooling systems for a large building. Many two-story houses now have different systems for each floor, he noted.

Other features inside the building have to be durable because of the high use and the long life expectancy of the structure, Zarosinski said.

“We can get super cheap cabinets,” he said. “We can get a super cheap kitchen.”

But, if the city went cheap, it would be replacing many of these cabinets and counters in a few years, Zarosinski said.

He also doesn’t see anything lavish inside the buildings.

“You could end up with Italian marble backsplashes, but that’s not going to happen,” he said.

The buildings are being redesigned to do away with walls of glass, replaced with more conventional vinyl windows, Zarosinski said. A brick exterior will be replaced with more common cement-board siding seen on many residential units.

Other features that are expensive can’t be avoided, including laying down extra-thick asphalt to handle the heavy fire engines and other equipment, Zarosinski said.

Councilor Daniel Bunn said he expects to see more savings in the coming weeks but still wants fire stations that reflect some kind of civic presence and reflect the latest trends in building design.

Bunn said the fire stations will have central controllers for the heating and air-conditioning systems, similar to systems in other city buildings.

“We have an energy management system citywide,” he said. “It is a little spendy.” The system is designed to monitor problems and to keep energy costs down in the long run, Bunn said.

He said he thinks it’s important that firefighters have individual air-conditioning units in each bedroom.

“We ask a lot out of these guys,” he said. “We want to make sure the guys are well rested and comfortable.”

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com. Follow him on www.twitter.com/reporterdm.

An artist's earlier rendering shows a proposed new fire station design for Medford featuring a flat roof and large amounts of glass. Courtesy of Greg McKown