The city’s new fire station will have a reddish brick facade, with a green tile roof, white stone trim and enough strength to withstand a hurricane with 146 mile-per-hour winds.
As the city council waits for its construction manager to collect bids to determine the maximum price for the station’s construction, the council on Monday learned the final details about what the building will look like both inside and outside. As they discussed the project, council members brought up recurring arguments about the city’s building codes.
The council saw and touched samples of materials that will furnish the building: stained concrete and tile flooring, plastic laminate cabinets and doors, and paint shades. The colors of all materials are in neutral, classic tones that will remain attractive throughout the building’s lifespan.
The most important factor in choosing these materials, said PGAL Architect Jeff Gerber, is that they are hardy and durable enough to last for years.
“As you know, fire stations are notorious for getting heavy use,” Gerber said.
Some features that firefighters are most excited about include more space overall, separate male-female sleeping quarters and bathrooms, a bigger training room that will also be the city’s new Emergency Operation Center, a private treatment room to care for sick or injured residents, and a decontamination shower for firefighters and paramedics to clean up after calls.
Trees that line South Rice Boulevard will remain in place, and the construction plans try to ensure the trees’ roots sustain as little damage as possible. Protecting the roots will be tricky when engineers remove the soil under the current station, which has caused structural damage over the years as it expanded, contracted and sunk. They will use a specially designed fill material that is more stable, and then build a strong foundation reinforced with steel beams.
The new station includes built-in flood protection, because the floor will rest at an elevation of 55 feet, five inches, which is one foot and one inch higher than the 100-year flood elevation.
During Monday’s council meeting, several council members raised concerns because the station design does not comply with the city’s residential building code. The station is considered a commercial building, so it is not required to meet the residential code.
Councilman Jim Avioli asked about why the station’s tower is 48 feet tall, which exceeds the size limit for residential construction.
“That element provides an iconic component that anchors that corner of the city’s main complex,” Gerber said. “I think it serves a purpose in that regard. There’s no functional reason for it to be that tall, it’s really an aesthetic.”
The city would require residents building homes in Bellaire to get a variance for a 48-foot tall structure, but that’s not the case for the fire station.
“The way the code is written, we establish size restrictions for residential structures, but not for city-owned facilities,” said City Attorney Alan Petrov.
Councilman Pat McLaughlan has voted against the station in the past because he didn’t approve of the design. On Monday, he raised concerns about the station’s drainage features. Residential builders must show evidence that their drainage controls will offset the excess water runoff that their homes will create.
“You’ve added so may hundreds of thousand of cubic feet of material,” McLaughlan said about the fire station plans. He asked for proof that the underground storm water detention feature in the station’s building plans will properly offset all the materials. McLaughlan said he thinks the city should be required to show the same thing.
“So we’re not putting our adjoining residencies at danger,” McLaughlan said. “It would be the right thing for our community and residences.”
Satterwhite said the station’s drainage system would be more than adequate to carry away all water runoff the building will create, but the city does not have to prove this because the city’s commercial building code doesn’t require it.
“I think we’re probably protecting the neighbors more than a residential home in that area would,” he said. “It meets the code we use for this type of construction.”
The Gilbane Building Company, the city’s construction manager for the project, is currently collecting bids for all aspects of the station’s construction. The city’s budget is $5 million. Gerber said he expects to present the final maximum price to the city council in November.
“You have the flexibility in the [construction management] process to not accept all the component bids unless you want to,” Gerber said. If the council accepts the bids, construction could begin by late November or early December.
The new fire station should be ready for business one year after construction begins, Gerber said.