- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Tenleytown residents said yesterday the more than 80 fire and building-code violations recently found at the renovation of their city fire station is just the latest setback in a six-year effort to bring adequate emergency services to their neighborhood.

“This is a very critical firehouse in Northwest, and we have had to do without it for years now,” said Anne Renshaw, an advisory neighborhood commissioner in the area. “We have our eyes wide open here and we do not see Engine 20 back on line and we do not see any additional coverage that we need because of the development in Upper Northwest.”

The Washington Times reported Saturday that an independent inspector had issued numerous citations to contractor Garcete Construction Co. Inc. for unsafe conditions, substandard workmanship and failures to obtain construction permits. As of yesterday, there were 84 citations.

The Times also reported D.C. Office of Contracting and Procurement officials warned the construction company last month that they were “very concerned” about the pace of work on the historic firehouse at 4300 Wisconsin Ave. The renovation project, which had an Oct. 20 deadline, was 59 percent complete as of Friday, the independent inspector said.

Though the District’s contract with Garcete Construction includes a hefty $5,000 fine for each day the job remains incomplete after the deadline, Tenleytown residents are more concerned about getting back adequate fire-and-rescue services and having a well-built fire station.

“It sounds like a shoddy job, unfortunately,” said Steve Posniak, a former advisory neighborhood commissioner in Engine 20’s primary-service areas.

The effort to renovate the station got a slow start when the Tenleytown Historical Society blocked the fire department’s plan to demolish the building and create a $3.5 million facility with enhanced living quarters, a training room and three full-size bays with improved access for rescue vehicles.

Neighborhood leaders, the society and then-Fire Chief Thomas Tippett eventually reached a compromise agreement — a roughly $3.75 million renovation to enlarge the station and the bay doors while maintaining much of the building’s original facade.

Six months later, the community was shocked to learn that nonprofit Capitol Fire Museum Inc. of Washington DC filed for historic designation for Engine Company 20 and 18 other city stations built before 1945. The city’s Historic Preservation Review Board granted the designation in February 2002.

“I have nothing but contempt for the people who tried to use the historic preservation argument on this account,” said Mr. Posniak, who supported razing the firehouse when the issue was before him as a neighborhood representative. “It’s inappropriate for this function.”

Battalion Chief Richard Sterne, the fire department official in charge of the renovations, acknowledges that razing the building would have been less complicating.

“If that had happened, it would have been done by now,” he said.

Chief Sterne also said he is confident that the fire department will be satisfied with the finished product despite the 84 violations, which in some instances are duplicates or precautionary.

He said Garcete Construction officials say the work can be completed by the end of the year, but he said the project manager overseeing the job for the fire department expects it will take until March.

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