Construction of a new fire station in Fairfax Station is giving county staff sticker shock.
The final bids are in for the project, and the lowest bid, belonging to Alexandria-based American Property Construction, is $420,000 over the estimate set by county engineers.
"Right now, it’s not what we had hoped for, and it’s higher than what we expected," said Carey Needham, chief of the Building Design Branch for the county's Department of Public Works and Environmental Services (DPWES).
DPWES opened its five received bids on June 28 for the construction of the 14,000 square foot, four-bay fire station, to be located at the intersection of Ox and Hampton Roads. The highest of those bids, belonging to Marshall-based Miller Brothers, was a whopping $6.3 million, nearly $1 million over the $5.33 engineer's estimate.
Since American Property's bid was only 7.9 percent over estimate, Needham said it was "within reason" and they chose to proceed with drawing up contracts.
Alan Sherman, president of American Property, said they had signed the contracts for the project on Tuesday, Aug. 2, and planned to begin site work within a week. He attributed the higher-than-expected cost of construction to a variety of factors related to costs of materials.
"I do think material costs have driven up the cost of every project," said Sherman. "It's been going for awhile." Sherman said due to greater fluctuation in costs for materials, subcontractors and suppliers change their costs often.
"(They) aren't willing to hold their numbers for as long as they used to," he said.
Needham agreed with American Property's assessment of the situation.
"Right now, we’re dealing with a very volatile construction market in this region, because of a lot of cost escalation in construction materials — steel, cement, petroleum-based product," he said.
Edie Beitzel, capital projects coordinator for Fairfax County Fire and Rescue, called the situation "a contractor's world."
"We would always prefer it would come in under the cost estimate, but we understand the market right now," she said, adding she attended a pre-construction meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 2, and that she was assured demolition on the existing building on the property would begin on Monday, Aug. 8.
"It's been a long time," said Beitzel, referencing the difficulties the county experienced in reaching an agreement with the previous owners of the property to buy the property.
THE COST of petroleum is the key to the rising materials costs, according to Needham, because rising costs of that product affect a host of other supplies.
"Anything that’s got to be transported significant distances all have some price impact," he said." A lot of materials are heavily depended on oil production for production — asphalt paving, roofing, these are all high in petroleum product content."
This cost increase has taken place over the past 16 months, according to Needham, and he said the DPWES compared notes with other jurisdictions to see what their experiences were with other bidders.
The high costs also resulted in the county re-bidding the project, after receiving just one bid in its first solicitation in the spring. That bid was for $6.3 million, a figure Needham said "was not a fair bid." The county then selected six contractors which it pre-qualified to ensure fair bidding. Needham said six bidders is fairly average for a public project like a fire station.
"(Contractors) tend to be interested in public work only if they can get the work, with a good solid profit margin built in," he said.
Sherman said the contract stipulated a 65-week project timeline, but his company was hoping to finish in one year. The building is designed to achieve Silver Certification under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building program, established by the United States Green Building Council. That will mean incorporating more energy-saving components both into construction and the building itself, but it didn’t affect the cost.
"It's normally marginal, it depends how far you go. Sometimes there are initial investments, but you get it back in the long run," said Sherman.