BELLFLOWER — Plans to start work this summer on the long-planned Fire Museum and Event Center were dropped at a special meeting July 27 as City Council members rejected the lone bid the city received and directed staff to seek new proposals.
Public Works Director Leonard Gorecki said requests for letters of qualification will go out in August. From those responding, the city will select a number of firms and in September will send out requests for proposals on design and construction of the two-story facility on city-owned property on vacant land south of the Historic Depot on the east side of Bellflower Boulevard. The city hopes to start construction in early 2016.
Plans call for a fire museum with antique engines and memorabilia on the first floor and a banquet center serving 300 on the second floor.
To attract more bidders, the City Council agreed to increase the cost of the facility by asking for a 24,000-square-foot building not to exceed $9.6 million. Previously the council had budgeted $7 million for construction.
The lone proposal the city received was from J.R. Abbott Construction of Arcadia for a 16,600-square-foot building costing $6.6 million.
City Manager Jeff Stewart said the city has $7 million available and would determine where additional funds would come from once bids are in, hopefully for under $9.6 million.
Stewart said he believed only one bid was received because the construction industry is booming and many contractors were not interested in the $7 million maximum job because of the costs for materials and labor.
The previous request and the new one was for a design-build agreement at which the developer would design and build the facility and then turn it over to the city after being paid.
A council subcommittee composed of Vice Mayor Dan Koops and Councilman Ray Dunton said they did not like the design as there was just one elevator instead of the desired two and the main ceiling was too low. Also they did not think the facility was sufficient to attract crowds for a successful operation.
Koops and Dunton said they would like to see a more elegant building with frame and steel construction instead of Abbott’s proposed cement blocks, two elevators, a wide staircase, a gathering area outside the banquet center, a kitchen, restrooms and storage area and a glass wall or floor through which those attending a banquet or event could view the museum exhibits.
Equipment which would be on display in the museum has been provided by the Los Angeles County Fire Museum Association, a group within the Los Angeles County Fire Department.
For several years the association has stored antique firefighting equipment in the former Bellflower Public Works building near the planned museum site.
Council members acknowledged that the upgraded building would cost more than the previous $7 million cap.
Mayor Scott Larsen said “the museum-event center should be a destination for people from throughout the area, something no other city has.”
In a strongly worded letter to the council dated July 7, Matthew Reel, regional director for Abbott, protested the city’s rejection of his firm after seven months of negotiations and predicted the city would receive no other bid if it places similar cost and size restrictions on the facility.
Building Consultant Steve Patterson told the council that Abbott is a qualified firm and proposed a cost based on market standards to comply with the city’s previous demands.
“I am pretty certain we will see their name on the list of new proposals,” Patterson said of the Abbott firm.
County Fire Capt. Joe Woyjeck, stationed in the Bellflower area and president of the museum group, told the council his members understand the reason for the delay and would support the new efforts.
“We are honored and happy that you have spent a lot of time trying to make the project work,” he said. “We love your city.”