Putting Out Fires

Construction of a $1.7 million Bay St. Louis fire station on Mississippi 603 is weeks behind schedule, and the project engineer said he has notified the contracting company it is in violation of its agreement with the city.

The anticipated completion date for Fire Station No. 2 passed in February, said project engineer Jim Brumfield, with Compton Engineering. “He is 50 days behind schedule,” Brumfield told the City Council this week.

The delay means that hundreds of residents in Wards 5 and 6, annexed by the city nearly four years ago, are still without fire protection dedicated to their immediate area. The former East Hancock Volunteer Fire Department that previously served the area was disbanded in the years since annexation.

The contracting company, Case Construction, of Mobile, won the fire station job with a bid of $1,752,000. A notice to proceed was issued on the contract last June 25. With one extension already granted, the expected completion date was Feb. 28, 2010, Brumfield said.

“The contractor made some mismanagement decisions,” in the project, Brumfield told the City Council. He said the city has already notified Case Construction it is not in compliance with the contract, and also has notified the company’s bonding company.

Case was required to post a performance bond equal to the contract amount.

“We still aren’t satisfied with him,” Brumfield told council members. “We have told him, ‘you are in violation of the contract.”‘

Brumfield said contractor delays resulted from “poor management of their assets,” including problems with key subcontractors. “That seems to be it in a nutshell,” he said.

Areas that would be served by the new department primarily are located north and east of Mississippi 603. The station itself lies in Ward 5.

City Councilman Joey Boudin, who represents the ward, said he wants to see the city to take action against the contractor.

“I am very, very dissatisfied with that contractor,” Boudin said. “If they can’t handle it, they shouldn’t have bid it.”

The city has several alternatives to solve the problem, Brumfield said. It can ask Case’s bonding company to either take control of the job, or name a new contractor acceptable to the city. Or, the city can expel the contractor, advertise again for bids, and select a new contractor.

“Sometimes, delays are a bitter pill to swallow,” Brumfield said. In some cases, it can be better to keep the same contractor and “micromanage the job,” to make sure it’s completed satisfactorily, he said.

On the positive side, Case was required to use less concrete than originally expected on the site, and that will save slightly more than $3,000 on station construction. However, a negative change order to add building vents will erase most of that gain.

Time will tell how problems with the project will be resolved.

“It’s not a matter of if it works out,” Brumfield said, “It will work out.”

Fire Chief Fred Butts said he plans to place three or four firefighters per shift at the new station, once it is built. Meanwhile, fire protection for the new wards must come from a temporary facility on Turner Street in Bay St. Louis.

Should simultaneous fires occur in the older section of Bay St. Louis and the newer wards, the department will still be able to handle both ends, Butts said. Units from the Diamondhead and Waveland departments could also be called in.

“I don’t think it’s much of a stretch” for his department to get by until Station No. 2 is finally completed, Butts said.

A related city project, the new Fire Station No. 1 on Main Street, has also encountered multiple delays and change orders. That project was scheduled to be completed by a different contractor in February.

Butts said a temporary certificate of occupancy for the Main Street station was expected to be issued this week, but he had not yet received it.

BY: J.R. Welsh

The Sea Coast Echo

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