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As an overall budget is created, communities may realize that the size and scope of their project is more than they can afford. “The size, scope and budget may be too energetic, but that’s OK,” Ross said. Designs should be “living, working documents” that can be changed as necessary, he said.
Ross said that as the design documents are created, they need to be approved by elected officials or the resident voters themselves. Since 2006, Ross said he has helped with 77 public votes on emergency response buildings and every one of them has been approved. Once a budget has been set and a design selected, the process moves on to any land-use approvals needed, Ross said. Many communities don’t exempt fire stations, sending them through local planning boards, design review boards and other land-use committees and boards for approval, just like a private-sector project. “They don’t want to exempt themselves,” Ross said.
After the new station gets green lights from all approving parties – from the financial end to the land-use end and any other committee that has to weigh in – the project goes to the construction phase, which can last from eight months to more than a year and a half, Ross said.
Selecting materials for construction to make sure the facility is durable can be tricky, but won’t break the bank, he said, adding that communities should never skimp on public areas that will be subjected to heavy uses. However, if communities have budget constraints, perhaps they can consider composite tiles in administrative office areas rather than the more expensive, but more durable, polished concrete. “There are some perfectly acceptable substitutes if a community needs to save a bit of money,” Ross said.
However, Ross said, he would never advocate skimping on areas where maintenance could be an issue. He said fire stations should be as low maintenance and energy efficient as possible. He is also an advocate of installing sprinkler systems in fire stations. The costs of sprinklers can be easily offset by savings in reduced fire-rated doors and drywall and other components. Besides, it sets a good example to have a station with a sprinkler system when firefighters advocate for residential sprinklers.
“There’s a lot of good common sense that goes in to building a fire station,” Ross said.