Marinwood fire Chief Tom Roach says the firehouse kitchen is not only a functional necessity, it’s the meeting room, social hub and general focal point of activity for the staff.
Yet for the past year, the kitchen has been in a state of disrepair, with no faucet, no sink, an aging stove, a broken broiler and exposed wall studs. For running water, the staff uses a utility sink next to the laundry machines.
Last week the firefighters got some promising news: the Marinwood Community Services District board authorized Roach to seek a contractor for a renovation. But the project’s completion could still be months away.
“It’s gone on longer than it should have,” Roach said.
The problem began in February 2017, when black mold was discovered in the kitchen. The mold abatement work required the demolition of half the kitchen, including the countertop, sink, dishwasher and some cabinetry.
The mold company provided an estimate to rebuild the kitchen, but the contractor did not meet the prevailing wage requirement and legal standards for a public works project, according to a report by Eric Dreikosen, the district manager.
Over the next months, the district pursued qualified contractors, got a project design from an architect and budgeted $60,000 for the work, Dreikosen reported. However, the informal estimates the district received far exceeded the budget.
By August, the district did receive an informal proposal that was within budget, but that plan was not resubmitted when the district issued formal requests for proposals in September. Instead, the district got one sealed bid for $87,000 and another for $118,000.
By then it was October, and the Marin firefighters’ union got involved. Bob Briare, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 1775, sent a letter to the board demanding action.
“We have had to suffer through one excuse after another as to why there has been absolutely no progress made in having new facilities installed,” Briare wrote. He noted that the firefighters had requested an allocation for a kitchen upgrade in 2015 and 2016, even before the mold discovery.
Briare suggested the district was dragging its feet as “retribution” during contract negotiations and a lawsuit alleging overtime underpayment. The litigation has since been settled.
In November, the board increased the project budget to $77,000 but could not get the lowest bidder to drop the price. The board rejected both pending bids.
In December, the board modified the project to potentially lower the cost, and sent out another request for proposals. No bids came in.
Dreikosen wrote a memo to the district board ahead of its meeting Tuesday, advising that the project drew no bids. He listed two possible courses of action: one, that the board authorize the district to seek informal bids; two, the board issue another formal request for proposals.
He recommended the first option, saying it was legal because the earlier process had ended without a bid.
The board members agreed. “They encouraged staff to move as quickly as possible,” Dreikosen said Wednesday.
The market for qualified contractors is tight, especially for smaller jobs, because of homeowners repairing storm damage from last winter plus the ongoing disaster reconstruction in the North Bay fire zone.
Roach said he thinks he has a contractor who will take the job. The district staff has to bring a proposal to the board for approval.
Briare, the union president, said he hopes the project will finally get done but he is anxious about whether the board will “really drop the hammer” on a deal.
“It’s embarrassing,” he said. “It’s gone on long enough.”
Leah Green, president of the Marinwood Community Services District board, said the project delay had nothing to do with the earlier labor conflicts.
“We did the best we could with the information we had at the time,” she said.
Green said the district is now prepared to spend “whatever it costs to get the job done.”
The Marinwood district’s annual budget is about $6 million to provide fire protection, park maintenance, recreation services and street lighting for about 5,000 residents. The fire department has 11 full-time employees, about 25 volunteers and an annual budget of about $2.5 million.
Roach is nearing retirement and the district has been studying consolidating its fire service with another department in Marin.