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Cost overruns on Fire Station 1 remodel run over $4M

JACKSON, Wyo. – Town and county leaders ultimately put off a decision on a change order for Jackson Hole Fire EMS Station 1 as the project is woefully overbudget and running behind.

Originally, a remodel of Fire Station 1 in downtown Jackson was to have cost under $7 million. Wapiti Construction, awarded the bid at $6.54M, has burned through that and then some.

The cost overruns vexed some electeds who just finished dealing with budget bloat on the Parks & Rec building on Snow King Ave.

“The process is broken. We are now 100% overbudget. The town can’t keep writing blank checks,” said councilman Jim Stanford.

Wapiti’s Zia Yasrobi blamed much of the overruns on shoddy original construction done in the 1960-70s.

“The most expensive thing you can do is a remodel. You never know what you are going to find,” Yasrobi said, adding they should have just knocked the building down to begin with. “We’ve changed the design system three times. We are basically dancing on our feet.”

What Wapiti found when they began the selective demolition process was shockingly substandard work.

“The walls were not even attached. They were just sitting,” Yasrobi told electeds at a joint meeting Monday. “I don’t know how the building stood all these years, honest to God.”

Commissioner Mark Newcomb cherry-picked a few line item budget busters like a $50,000 fire poll. “When I was a kid, we used a galvanized pipe,” Newcomb said.

ADA compliance was also a reason for rising costs but all of it paled in comparison to what council Jonathan Schechter had tabulated.

“I don’t know a lot about construction processes,” Schechter admitted at the JIM. “In simple language how do we explain the fact that we are now six million over budget on this contract?”

Yasrobi responded it was more like $4 million to his math, but at any rate it was more than the town of Jackson has to spare.

“What do we get if we just spent the money available to us?” asked councilman Arne Jorgensen.

Not much, answered Yasrobi, detailing an all-or-nothing stalemate.

“We have people under contract, steel orders in. I don’t know where to stop this,” he said.

With combined tax revenue of $8M from SPET approvals in 2014 and 2017 funding the project along with various other revenues, expenses have piled up quicker. Some $13,387,048 to date compared to $9,249,274 on the black side of the balance sheet.

Estimates are the town and county will need to come up with an additional $4,137,773 ($3.7M of that in FY21) or Wapiti will have to halt construction.

“We are where we are with this project,” commissioner Greg Epstein said, wishing to focus on how to move forward.

Commissioner Mark Barron agreed, stating, “We are lucky to have a local contractor like Zia that has stuck with this project.”

But the town is in considerably worse financial condition and the strain on the FY21 budget could be too much. The council wanted more time to come up with their share. A decision was put off until later this month when the matter could be put on a meeting agenda again.

“This deserves a serious post-mortem because this is the second project in the past week that has shot past budget. There must be something about these large projects that we are not doing very well,” Schechter said.

Balance sheet figures on Fire Station 1 remodel look a bit upside-down. Courtesy image
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