By CAROL GORGA WILLIAMS
The Asbury Park City Council voted 4 to 0 -with Deputy Mayor Amy Quinn absent – to award a bid for construction of the much delayed and much hoped for firehouse- for $18 million.
“We’ve never been this close,” said Mayor John B. Moor after Monday’s special meeting.
Bids were sent out with alternatives and several deductions to give the city options and it was a bid from Wallace Bros Inc., Brick Township the council approved. The bid does not include a fire tower – which was estimated to cost $1,079,000 and a community room that had a $707,000 price tag.
The total bid is $18,084,000. The city previously had bonded for the construction. The new firehouse will be built on city-owned property across Memorial Drive from City Hall.
The contractor was among 10 bidders who submitted base bids and then numerous alternatives.
“I wish this was happening in a different year so we could give the fire department everything they hoped for. It was just not that time.” Councilwoman Eileen Chapman said.
The city’s municipal tax rate did not increase last year but Moor expects a slight increase this year as well as a more substantial increase at the schools level which has been suffering for several years due to declining state aid, complicated with the city’s need to put aside some money for a few other multi-million dollars anticipated expenses over the next two years. Moor doesn’t want either city borrowing or living expenses for residents to be too high in any given year, he said.
“I couldn’t understand building a community room – which was small, having room for 45 people when only 200 feet away, council chambers is available and had twice as much room,” Moor said. “We are not flush with money.
“We understand,” said Fred Bates, president of the firefighters union. “You don’t get everything you want.” What they are getting is related to their core purpose: “a way to work in a safe and healthy building,”
The firefighters, who are members of the only all paid department in the county, can continue to train at the Monmouth County Fire Academy in Wall Township, which is about 15 minutes away, officials said.
Bates said it was so positive to know the residents and government officials “continue to understand and support us.” No groundbreaking date has been set but the next step includes securing various building permits.
Fire Chief Kevin Keddy estimated it might get underway sometime in summer. He noted that when he first joined the fire department 32 years ago, the chief at the time told him he would see a new firehouse in Keddy’s lifetime.
He talks about the promises other council members made over the years and now he can see the reality is at hand.
“We would have liked to have the training tower but this is a bigger picture with other issues in the city,” Keddy said. “I’m cautiously optimistic. I’m a half full kind of guy. Always have been. But I couldn’t be happier. I wouldn’t ever say I was discouraged. I’m super delighted that this project is moving forward. We have never remotely been this far” in the building process.
The city’s current firehouse on Main Street is more than a century old and firefighters have complained about conditions there for decades. The state has filed health, safety and structural violations there.