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City begins formal review of planned $33.7M safety facility

A City Council study committee wants hard numbers on renovation costs before members make a recommendation on whether Central Fire Station should remain in the new public safety complex.

The four-member committee, which will resume its work at 5:30 p.m. today at Lawton City Hall, was tasked by the full council with exploring two options that could significantly change the configuration of the public safety facility: remove Central Fire Station, keeping the station at its downtown location; and scaling the full jail down to holding cells only and take the city out of the jail business.

While Ward 3 Councilman Caleb Davis, who is chairing the study committee, said the group isn't ready to make its recommendations, he and other members indicated that if analysis continues to show that renovating the existing site is more expensive than placing Central in the new public safety complex, they would not vote to remove the fire station.

Committee members also plan to continue exploring the idea of focusing on a system to assess fines, rather than jail time, for those found guilty of violating city code. That discussion is expected to form the bulk of talks at today's meeting.

Wednesday was the first meeting of a committee whose members plan to complete their work and offer recommendations in advance of a special council meeting on Tuesday. When council members agreed earlier this week to appoint the study committee, they also agreed to a special meeting to act on recommendations rather than rolling that discussion into the next regular meeting.

At issue are proposals to change the configuration of a 112,000-square-foot, $33.7 million, three-story building that, under existing designs, would house the Lawton Police Department and the city jail, municipal court and the firefighting crews of Central Fire Station. 

Flintco, which in August won the bid to build the facility, broke ground in November and has done extensive earthwork to remove 5 feet of clay soil and replace it with stable fill material to support the building foundation. The firm, which has been paid almost $1 million to date for its work, expects to take delivery on materials needed to build the foundation in February, city administrators said this week.

But the facility the construction firm builds would change if the study committee makes recommendations the full council accepts.

Davis, who works in the construction industry, said Wednesday he wants to contact several contractors to see if they would give him hard estimates on what would have to be done to keep Central Fire Station as a modern fire station. But Davis and Ward 6 Councilman Sean Fortenbaugh also conceded that if city staff is correct in estimates of what it would cost to rebuild the station on or near its current site, that cost  about double the cost of moving the station to the new facility  makes it impractical to continue.

Fire Chief Dewayne Burk said city administrators analyzed various plans and administrators said one that would keep a fire station capable of supporting modern fire apparatus and personnel in the downtown area would cost about $7 million. By contrast, the cost of making the fire station part of a blended facility on Railroad Street would be $3.6 million for construction, plus another $2.5 million in shared expenses with city police for shared facilities such as meeting space and athletic rooms.

The cost of including the fire station in the new facility would equate to the $5 million allocated in the ballot and ordinance that defined the 2015 Sales Tax Extension program that is paying the cost. But those same documents specified purchase of land and work to renovate or expand Central at its existing location, Davis said.

Burk said the most feasible plan for keeping Central in downtown Lawton is buying property to the east of the fire station, including an old bank owned by the county, then demolishing the deteriorating bank and building new bays on that site. City Manager Jerry Ihler said estimates show it could cost the city $1 million to buy the two sites, with another $250,000 to demolish the old bank and about $600,000 to design a new fire station. That funding is needed even before the city even broke ground on what has been estimated at a $5 million project.

The Lawton Constitution

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