Extended debt service will cover $4 million

The fire station Burnsville officials envisioned five years ago is not the one that will break ground in September.

The station being planned now is bigger and more sophisticated than the one conceived in 2015.

It’s also more expensive.

The cost of building a station to replace the aging Fire Station 1 is now $18.6 million, not the $14.6 million estimated in 2015 and shown in the 2020 capital improvement budget.

City Council members took the news in stride at a Feb. 11 work session.

“I don’t think this is a terribly uncommon thing five years later to see price changes,” Council Member Vince Workman said.

Council members agreed to absorb the added cost by extending debt service on the project from 15 years to 20. They also rejected one council member’s idea for a novel fire education feature at the new station.

The need for a new station was tagged in a 2015 study of city facilities. A schematic design was done in 2016.

The current station at 911 W. 140th Street, built in 1976 as the police headquarters, has reached the end of its life. The site is unusable for a new station, according to the city, which bought land at West 143rd Street and Newton Avenue.

In planning the new station, it became clear that the version from several years ago doesn’t meet current or future needs, according to Fire Chief B.J. Jungmann.

The 2015 study called for 31,134 square feet. The station now being planned is 42,000 square feet.

The smaller building might be too small for future demands, Jungmann said. The need for a retaining wall added an unforeseen $650,000 expense. And the smaller building wouldn’t meet expectations for the project of the city staffers and architect planning it.

The larger building will include design features aimed at reducing firefighters’ occupation-related cancer risks and safeguarding their cardiac and mental health, Jungmann said.

Much has been learned since 2015 about firefighter health and building design, Jungmann said.

The original plan also didn’t include public restrooms, elevators and some needed mechanical spaces, he said. And building costs have risen.

Planners ended up with a 45,000 square-foot building, which they cut to 42,000 by reducing some features, such as cutting the number of public restrooms from four to two, downsizing the lobby and fitness center and eliminating a conference room, Jungmann said.

Extending debt service by five years will keep the annual payment at $1.2 million, Deputy City Manager Gregg Lindberg said. The city is using utility franchise fees paid by all Burnsville ratepayers to fund a series of projects, including a completed renovation and new parking garage at the police station.

Council Member Cara Schulz said she’s been assured by staff they won’t seek an increase in the tax levy or franchise fees — which were “already quadrupled” in the 2020 budget — to cover the higher building cost.

“If we’re going to build it,” Council Member Dan Gustafson said, “let’s do it right so it will last a long time.”

“And I believe the community wants us to take care of its assets and also take care of the personnel that take care of them,” Mayor Elizabeth Kautz said.

Education space

Impressed by a fire-safety camp space he saw in Frisco, Texas, while attending a conference, Council Member Dan Kealey suggested Burnsville consider building one into its new station.

The space is part of Frisco Fire Safety Town, an elaborate youth education facility that Jungmann said was built with donations from the community.

Kealey focused on a feature that simulates a house fire in real-life rooms. It’s “very much like being in someone’s house,” with simulations of a smoke-filling room and the sounds associated with a house fire.

“I think it’s powerful and very important information in a safety course that the kids will probably never forget,” said Kealey, who suggested it would be a regional attraction in Burnsville and could attract some grant funding.

Jungmann estimated construction costs of more than $300,000, with possibly another $300,000 in site work.

He said he’d want to hire a full-time person to ensure the education program was “robust” and well-used.

Building the feature into the new station would delay groundbreaking by about a month, said Quinn Hutson of CNH Architects. The planned September groundbreaking avoids the potential for frozen ground, Jungmann said.

The Fire Department’s Burnsville’s current education practices include trying to appear in every kindergarten, second grade and fourth grade class for 30 minutes each year. Other efforts include open houses and the Fire Muster, where the city borrows Lakeville’s simulated house fire trailer.

Burnsville provides “best practice public education” that is “definitely adequate for the community,” Jungmann said.

Kealey’s colleagues — including Kautz, who also saw the Frisco facility — rejected the idea.

“It is a great concept,” she said. “But it took a lot of money, and we are on a schedule. I know about cost, and I don’t want to see cost escalators because we’ve delayed.”

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