Allentown’s new East Side Fire Station should be completed before the end of this year.
“I want the station to open as soon as possible,” said Fire Chief Robert Scheirer.
East Allentown has been without a fire station since September 2011, when the station at N. Irving and E. Green streets was closed because rainwater leaking into the building was producing unhealthy mold.
The city determined structural deficiencies at that station were beyond repair. It was abandoned, then torn down.
In October 2011, Allentown City Council approved construction of a new $1.8-million station on the same site. It was supposed to be completed by the fall of 2012. But that didn’t happen, because bids for the project came in more than $600,000 too high, according to the fire chief.
“We made design changes to get the price down,” said Scheirer.
While the station was scaled back a bit, it will be larger than the station it will replace, according to city spokesman Mike Moore.
Moore said that not only did the station have a mold problem, the station's floor needed to be replaced. The station had been built in 1953.
Scheirer said requests for bids to do site preparation will go out the first week in March and those bids should be opened before the end of March. He said requests for construction bids will go out before mid-April and a contract will be awarded in May. Construction should begin before mid-June. City officials project the new station should be completed by late October or early November, weather permitting.
“It will take five to five-and-a-half months to complete,” said the chief. “We should be in by the end of this year.”
Scheirer said the new station will have three garage bays, one more than the old station. He said it is being designed so a city ambulance can be based in it, either immediately or eventually. He said a study currently is being done on emergency medical service needs in east Allentown.
The fire department’s Engine 13 will operate out of the new station, said the chief, And all of the city’s water rescue and recovery equipment will be kept inside it, because the chief said will be the closest fire station to access points on the Lehigh River.
Scheirer said the department’s rescue boat is now kept at the Hibernia Fire Station, which means it must be transported to the other side of the river to get access, and the department’s dive team unit is based at the Mack South fire station.
Since the East Side station closed, firefighters have been serving east Allentown from the Hibernia Station at Tilghman Street and Ridge Avenue. That has added two or three minutes to response times on the East Side, said Scheirer. He explained that during morning and afternoon rush hours, when traffic jams the Tilghman Street Bridge near the Hibernia Station, one fire truck temporarily is stationed in east Allentown.
Joseph Davis, the only member of City Council who resides in East Allentown, is glad the fire department is doing that, but added: “As a resident it will still be nice to have that fire station right here.”
“The majority of people I talk to want it as soon as possible, but they understand the process,” said Davis. “When it gets here, they will be happy.” Davis noted that redesigning the station took some time after the original bids came in too high.
Dennis Pearson, an east Allentown resident who regularly attends City Council meetings, said the city didn’t make the new fire station a high priority. “If they wanted to do it quickly, they would have done it. It took too long. They keep pushing it back.”
Pearson said he is president of the East Allentown-Rittersville Neighborhood Association, which represents east Allentown residents. He said those residents have resolved themselves to the fact that “they are not in the driver’s seat to get it done.”
Davis said Boyle Construction was hired as the project construction manager.
On Wednesday night, Allentown managing director Francis Dougherty told City Council the city initially attempted to do the fire station replacement project “in-house” without hiring an outside consultant and contractor, but the project “exceeded our capacity to do so.”
Dougherty told council: “We’ve since hired a project manager to oversee” the project, working with W2A, the architect, “to expedite the construction.” A final plan was presented to city administrators Friday.
Dougherty told council about $1 million was shaved off a $1 million cost overrun.