A Sylvania Township hearing today seeking public input about a decision to construct a new fire station at its existing site in downtown Sylvania turned into a heated discussion about construction costs that involved audience members and the two trustees in attendance.
Trustees Kevin Haddad and John Jennewine talked over each other and traded barbs during the 30-minute meeting attended by about 20 residents and various city and township employees.
The township trustees have all but decided to build Station No. 1 at its existing site at 6633 Monroe St., but took no action on it today. The trustees would have to reverse a resolution passed in March stating the new station would not be built at the current site.
The station is the last of three township fire stations to be replaced as part of a capital campaign that was approved by voters in 2008, with a 1.25-mill general operating levy. Several sites have been considered for the station, but finalizing that location has been continually held up by disagreements over costs and prospective sites.
Joe Vetter, of Toledo-based Vetter Design Group, has been chosen as the architect for the station. At the public hearing, he presented two conceptual drawings to the crowd.
“This is just a preliminary look at what the exterior could look like,” Mr. Vetter said. “We know this is in the downtown district. We anticipate the exterior of the building to be cast stone and brick veneer, in keeping with the historic nature of the neighborhood and downtown.”
Sylvania Township fire chief Jeffrey Kowalski said he was pleased with the designs and that they meet the needs of the department.
But while residents didn’t voice many concerns about the plans themselves, they had plenty to say about whether the project would make the budget that was previously approved.
“You’re telling me we’re going to be within our original levied budget?” said resident Al Hayes, addressing Mr. Jennewine and Mr. Haddad. Trustee Neal Mahoney was absent from the meeting.
Mr. Hayes’ question spurred a sparring match between Mr. Haddad and Mr. Jennewine.
“I don’t think so,” Mr. Haddad said, citing his background in contracting, as reason to believe that the end cost of the station would not fall within the proposed budgetary constraints.
But Mr. Jennewine did not agree.
Based on a professional’s opinion, we are well within our budget. Everything I’ve worked with here is indicating we’re going to come in at about $200,000 below our budget,” he said. “We’re going to do everything we can to hold this within our budget.”
The two men ordered the other to be quiet several times during the discussion.
Township administrator John Zeitler attempted to clarify how much was left in the budget.
“Originally the township borrowed 8.5 million dollars, bond-issued. We have spent 6.5 million roughly. We have a balance of about 1.93 million that’s available for construction of the station.” He stressed that planning ahead would be helpful to make sure the project stays on track.
Officials want to start construction in March of 2013.
Resident Penny Levine wondered aloud if the project could stay within the parameters.
“Costs have increased, so I find it pretty amazing,” she said of Mr. Jennewine’s assertion that the project may actually come in lower than budgeted.
Another resident expressed concern about the timing of building the station, as she was under conflicting impressions of when the money might run out.
“You have three years from the time you take the bond out to spend it,” Mr. Zeitler said, pointing out that puts the township at March, 2013. “If you have a project under way and they know it’s under way, they will extend that mark automatically.”
Mr. Zeitler added that even if there is no project under way, the trustees can still ask for an extension of the three-year time limit.
“The bonds right now are non-taxable. If the IRS, in the worst case scenario, determined that we were just keeping the money to keep it, they would classify it as taxable,” he said.
Mr. Haddad continued to express concerns that too many games had been played with finding a location and that the cost was definitely going to be over the budgeted amount.
Bill Sanford, safety director for the City of Sylvania, read a letter at the meetingindicating support of the station at its present location.
Mr. Haddad said the city originally preferred a prospective location, 7610 Erie St., but that the possibility was taken off the table.
But that wasn’t the only matter that upset him during the 30-minute meeting.
He said it cost the township $1.5 million for a two-bay station and he does not believe that the No. 1 fire station, which includes plans for three bays, would cost the same amount.
Mr. Jennewine didn’t back down from his opinion that everything would be done within the allotted time frame.
“No matter what happens, I expect the chief to have a workable plan that will be best for our community,” he said.
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