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CAPE MAY - At its April 20 work session, Cape May City Council saw a presentation of plans for a new fire station. 

No issue proved more controversial for two years than the replacement facilities for the city’s fire and police departments. The lack of consensus led to dueling public referendums in the November 2020 general election.

At issue was whether the city would replace its aging public safety facilities with a combined public safety complex, or separate police and fire department buildings.

The election showed a public preference for separate fire and police facilities, when the referendum authorizing $5 million in funding for a separate firehouse obtained the most votes. 

The election also created a new governing body headed by a new mayor, with the issue of public safety department facilities playing no small role in the election outcome.

Immediately upon taking office, Mayor Zachary Mullock and the new council Jan. 19 introduced the bond ordinance that won most of the voter support. The ordinance was adopted Feb. 16.

The city hired Robbie Conley Architect LLC, a Woodbury Heights firm, to design the new fire station in line with the general funding parameters contained in the ordinance. Robbie Conley Architect presented two conceptual schemes at the April 20 council meeting.

Mullock pointed to the fact that the council was considering design options within almost 100 days of the governing body reorganization – it was 109 days exactly.

The architectural firm made note of its many years of experience in firehouse design, with the firm’s principal architect having served for 39 years in fire service, 10 of which were as chief of the Woodbury Heights Fire Department.

The two schemes presented to the council did not differ significantly in design. Schematic 2, which was identified as the preferred design of the city’s task force working with the architects, was 733 square feet larger than schematic 1. At just over 16,000 square feet, schematic 2 was approved by the council April 20. It will move to the next level of design effort.

Mullock noted the design options gained the Historic Preservation Commission’s unanimous approval, muting the controversy that surrounded a proposed combined public safety building, which some feared would not coexist well with the city’s historic district.

The presentation attached cost estimates to the two schemes. The council-approved schematic 2 showed an estimated cost of $5,757,538, including a $523,413 contingency estimate. 

The estimate exceeds the bond ordinance amount. If it holds or increases as design proceeds, additional funding would be required. The cost estimate difference between schematic 1 and schematic 2 was $262,000, including contingencies.  

The estimated cost per square foot of each schematic design was $325. The design schematic estimates from the Sept. 19, 2019, presentation of a combined public safety building ran over 75% higher per square foot. Neither set of estimates was subjected to an actual bidding process yet.

Mullock said the city is moving ahead to identify a location for a new policefacility.  

The city has dedicated a page on its website for public access to documents, presentations, and schematics related to the new fire station (https://bit.ly/3nqVCuq). Those wishing to see the architect’s presentation will find it there. 

Mullock said the city will keep the page updated, as the project continues. The goal remains to have construction begin this year.

To contact Vince Conti, email vconti@cmcherald.com.

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