HF&R campus may get major upgrade

A representative of Pinnacle Architecture presented Highlands Fire and Rescue and town staff with a plan to renovate the current department campus, turning the multi-building complex into one, two-story structure.

The project was discussed at Tuesday’s Public Safety Committee meeting and HFR Chief Ryan Gearhart said this is a long time coming, and he likes what he sees.

“We’ve been working on this for years,” said Gearhart. “With the town growing and call volume increasing, this needs to get done.”

At this year’s award ceremony in January, Chief Gearhart said the department responded to 640 calls – more than ever before, “with no sign of stopping.”

The proposed plan from Randy Baker of Pinnacle showed the possibilities of expanding the campus to include sleeping quarters, more office space, a meeting room, showers/restrooms, kitchen, and dining area.

One of the main goals of the project is to add sleeping quarters for firefighters working 24/7.

“A key part is to get those accommodations upstairs,” said Town Manager Josh Ward. “A lot of fire departments are going that way, 24/7 full-time firemen.”

The plan would give the Department approx. 8,800 square feet of bay space and 8,000 square feet of office space. HFR would have nine bays, seven in front and two in back. The existing two bays and the conference room near the rear of the main building will remain as part of the newly built structure.

The EMS building is not part of the project at this time, though the space it occupies may be necessary in the future.

In addition, though loose talk has suggested so, the Highlands Playhouse campus isn’t being targeted for HFR expansion.

The idea is to make the most of what’s on the site now.

“You can raze this building, but honestly, it’s more useful not to,” said Baker referring to the existing building. “There’s no sense in tearing something down if it works.”

It’s also been determned that the location of the complex works well especially since the cost of property elsewhere would be debilitating.

A major hurdle will be what to do during the renovations? Can the department operate out of the existing complex?

“That is a hurdle we are going to have to cross,” said Gearhart. “We would possibly be able to keep some stuff here but not much. We are not real sure what we will do at this point.”

The upgrade comes with an estimated cost of $2.3 million, which boils down to approx. $160 per square foot of office space and $140 per square foot of bay space.

There are multiple ways the town can approach this process. The project could be designed and built by Pinnacle and their contractors who are familiar with specialty projects including fire departments, schools, and hospitals. Or, the town could ask Pinnacle to design the plans, and then the town could bid the project out to general contractors.

Using Pinnacle and their contractors gives the town a cost cap that is only subject to change if something significant is unforeseen (i.e. 20 feet of rock below the structure) or the town makes drastic changes to the plans; both could cause the cost to escalate.

Other features discussed were ventilation systems, drainage, bay door size, where offices should be located, if the building will need excessive grading, etc.

The town will provide Pinnacle with topographic maps of the property and then the issue will go before the Town Board.

After Pinnacle receives the topographic information, they can produce an in-depth plan for the project, which runs about $80,000, but again, it’s up to the board if the town proceeds.

As of press time, HFR’s renovations have not been added to any upcoming Town Board meeting agendas but Ward said it will likely be part of the discussion at the upcoming retreat on March 28.

The retreat provides town staff the opportunity to review with the Town Board departmental capital requests for FY 2019-‘20 as well as the opportunity to discuss long-range capital needs that may or may not be implemented within the upcoming budget.

“Among other things, a discussion will be had pertaining to the replacement of the existing fire department. The discussion was started several years back and has regained traction recently. The reason for a new building is due to the age and the size of the current building,” said Ward.  

Article and photos by Brian O’Shea
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