- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 21, 2004

The 12-month, $2.9 million renovation of a historic firehouse in Northwest is foundering in its second year, more than $1 million over budget and with completion unlikely before summer 2005.

Tenleytown residents, who have been forced to rely on neighboring areas for emergency service, are irate that the renovation has been delayed much longer than city officials had said.

“Everything that could have gone wrong has gone wrong,” said Anne Renshaw, an advisory neighborhood commissioner in Northwest. “It has been an example of chaos and lack of planning and lack of foresight. And the losers in this are the residents and businesses who are living and working in the area of the Tenleytown firehouse.”

The situation in Tenleytown doesn’t bode well for other neighborhoods, where 13 fire stations are scheduled for historic designation and renovation hearings in coming months.

Only three brick walls of Engine Co. 20’s firehouse stand at 4300 Wisconsin Ave. NW. The renovation site in Tenleytown has been abandoned since July. Built more than 100 years ago for horse-drawn fire engines, the firehouse is to be enlarged, its ventilation and plumbing systems rebuilt, and its bay doors widened for modern equipment.

The engine company’s vagabond crew had been housed in a temporary trailer without lavatories on the grounds of the Naval District Washington complex. About two months ago, the firefighters were moved a mile away to Engine Co. 31 at 4930 Connecticut Ave. NW, where they share quarters with that crew.

Engine Co. 20’s firetrucks, ambulances and other emergency vehicles have been dispersed to other fire stations. And residents must wait for service from as far away as Bethesda for some emergency calls.

“It’s absolutely an unacceptable situation,” said D.C. Council member Kathy Patterson, Ward 3 Democrat and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, which oversees the fire department. “You can’t not fight fires. We don’t have a choice. We need a new fire station.”

Arguments between preservationists and city officials over whether the firehouse should be designated a historic landmark delayed the start of the renovation until June 2002. The D.C. Historic Preservation Review Board granted the building historic status in February 2002.

The renovation, which was awarded to District-based contractor HRGM Corp., was scheduled to have been completed June 2003 at a cost of $2.9 million.

In letters to the city’s procurement office, HRGM President Ramesh Butani requested more time for the job and an additional $1.9 million because the building had been granted historic status after the original bid had been submitted. The city approved $407,000 and set December 2003 as the completion date.

Amid a dispute with the contractor over various construction issues, city officials fired HRGM in July, saying the company had defaulted on the contract. In August, the procurement office asked the bond company underwriting the renovation — Atlantic Mutual — to hire another contractor and to pay any cost overruns.

But Atlantic Mutual told city officials last week that HRGM had been wrongfully terminated and turned down the District’s request for a new contractor and cost overrun payments, according to documents that originated in the office of Herb Tillery, deputy mayor for operations.

At the time the contract was terminated, fire officials estimated that the Tenleytown renovation would require an additional 12 to 14 months. Now, the District must solicit new bids.

The city still has $2 million for the renovation and needs an additional $1.3 million to complete the project, according to documents from Mr. Tillery’s office.

Fire officials dispute the figure, saying they have $2.8 million on hand for the project.

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