The county will get its new fire station in Stone Mill Creek but there seemed to be few winners last week after a construction bid was awarded on the project for the second time.
The Board of County Commissioners last week awarded the bid to construct the fire station just off State 71 on Stone Mill Creek Road to Fisher Construction, continuing an odyssey that began early last year.
Brian Cathey of Cathey Construction was present to dispute characterizations offered by Commissioner Ward McDaniel during January’s regular meeting.
During that meeting, McDaniel, contending the fire house should have already been completed, moved to rescind the original bid award of last year which went to Cathey Construction.
Commissioners rescinded the award and re-bid the contract.
Cathey disputed several of the comments McDaniel made during the meeting and noted that his business and home had been completely wiped out, down to the tools, during Hurricane Michael.
Contrary to assertions made in January, Cathey said, he had been moving ahead on the project but had been slowed by storm impacts suffered by Cathey Construction and his concrete contractor.
McDaniel’s central argument was that the storm should not have impacted construction because the bid was awarded months before Michael was on any radar.
The county broke ground on the station last January.
In addition, Cathey said, the lack of a signed contract was due, in large part, to a lack of a price breakdown which Cathey said he could not provide because he had not been provided building plans after requesting them from the county.
Cathey said he had built all the county’s new fire stations in the past 15 years and was “shocked” to hear of the complaints expressed in January.
And, he added, he was the sole bidder last June; at that time the fire station wasn’t a priority for Fisher Construction or Taunton Construction, the bidders this round.
“What was stated in that meeting was no 100 percent accurate,” Cathey said, adding he was not seeking the bid award’s return but to set the record straight.
County Administrator Michael Hammond said a major hurdle from the outset was a $400,000 state appropriation for the fire station which prevented the county from undertaking a design/build process, in other words designing the fire station within budget.
Instead, the initial design was over budget by more than $300,000, hampering construction from the outset.
“There is blame to go around,” Hammond said. “We had to drag it out. It is unfortunate this is the way it worked out.
“I hate that (Cathey Construction) got a black eye and hate the county got a black eye out of this.”
Hammond and Cathey agreed the two parties could have improved communications, which proved another significant hurdle, Cathey said.
But, commissioners noted, the process was too far down the road to pull back at this point and the station needed to be built.
“Something’s wrong with this whole process,” said Commissioner Phil McCroan, the lone dissenting vote to rescind the original award in January. “There were missteps all along the way with the process.
“But the train has left the station.”
Commissioner Sandy Quinn, Jr., thanked Cathey for his past work in the county, said he looked forward to Cathey Construction bidding on future county jobs, and “apologized if there were any misstatements.”
The new station will be 3.4 miles closer to State 71 than the current Stone Mill fire protection near GCI, providing better fire safety on the north end of the county, McDaniel said, as well as assist with insurance rates for homeowners in the area.
“It’s imperative we get this fire department where it should be so we can save some money,” said Joe Paul, a county employee and resident of Stone Mill Creek.
The station will sit on roughly two acres donated by Mr. and Mrs. Charles Pitts for the sole purpose of constructing a geographically-closer station.
State Sen. Denise Grimsley (R-District 26) secured a $400,000 state appropriation for emergency facilities in rural counties, the money covering building construction.