- The Washington Times - Monday, May 22, 2006

D.C. fire officials yesterday backed off from a spring completion date for the renovation of a historic Northwest firehouse that has been under construction for almost four years.

“As far as we know, the latest job-completion date is the middle of August,” said Alan Etter, a fire department spokesman.

The renovation of Tenleytown’s Engine Co. 20, which began in June 2002, initially was projected to take a year and cost $2.9 million. Today, the cost of the project is estimated at $7 million and is 80 percent complete.

Mr. Etter said he was not aware of the reason for the latest delay, saying that the fire department is just a bystander in the construction process and that the daily operations are overseen by the D.C. Office of Contracting and Procurement.

A spokeswoman for that agency did not return a call seeking comment yesterday.

“The residents of this area have been waiting a long time for this fire station to get built,” said D.C. Council member Kathy Patterson, Ward 3 Democrat who represents the neighborhood where the station is located. “The fire department and project managers need to make every effort possible to get this building open and functioning.”

For almost four years, Engine 20’s firetrucks and ambulances have been dispersed to other stations. Residents have had to wait for service from as far away as Bethesda for some calls.

Meanwhile, the fire department cannot begin renovating another station — Engine Co. 28 at 3522 Connecticut Ave. NW — until Engine 20 is complete.

“This is very, very disturbing,” said D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat and chairman of the council’s Committee on the Judiciary, which oversees the fire department.

Originally, the contract was awarded to D.C.-based HRGM Corp., but city officials fired HRGM in July 2003, saying it had defaulted on the contract and there was a dispute over construction issues.

City officials rebid the contract and selected Garcete Construction Co. Inc., raising the budget to $3.9 million. Garcete began work in August 2004. A source with knowledge of the project said it is just over 80 percent complete.

The source said that current estimates — including design costs and construction costs paid to HRGM and Garcete and the cost of unanticipated change orders and inspections — put the project at $7 million.

The project was supposed to be completed last August, but the city granted an extension to the contractor until October. Before that deadline passed, fire officials announced the building would not be ready until March.

At the end of January, the fire department again revised the schedule to say the completion date would be sometime in the “spring.”

Built more than 100 years ago for horse-drawn fire engines, Engine Co. 20 was to be enlarged, its ventilation and plumbing systems rebuilt and its bay doors widened for modern equipment.

The D.C. Historic Preservation Review Board granted the building historic status in February 2002. The historic status angered some community members, who cite the designation and the rigid oversight for renovating historic buildings as the reason for the delays.

Mr. Mendelson disputes that notion. “Historic preservation has not been the issue,” he said. “That’s been a convenient excuse.”

The engine company’s vagabond crew was briefly housed in a temporary trailer on the grounds of the Naval District Washington complex. The firefighters are now housed a mile away at Engine Co. 31, at 4930 Connecticut Ave. NW, where they share quarters with that crew.

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