Santa Monica Civic Auditorium (File photo)

The City Council is expected to approve a $26.5 million contract (with a ten percent contingency) with Bernards Bros. construction Tuesday to break ground on Fire Station No. 1, beginning the end of a decade-long ordeal to replace a cramped and seismically unsafe but vital city facility.

A 2007 study found the wood frame and stucco fire station that serves downtown in dire need of a seismic retrofit, upgrades and various improves to come up to code. The report said an earthquake could cripple the building badly enough to trap or even kill firefighters and damage lifesaving equipment.

The total cost of the new fire station is expected to be $41.6 million, according to a report by senior architect Alex Parry. A portion of the project will come from the Capital Improvement Program budget with the rest financed with a lease revenue bond. Staff will return to the Council in May to seek approval for bond issuance.

When it’s complete, the dangerous 1950’s era facility will be replaced with a state-of-the-art three-story, 27,000 square-foot fire station with underground parking. The top floor features dorms for up to 20 firefighters, a kitchen, fitness area, men’s and women’s restrooms and a public community room. Pedestrians walking by the building will be able to see fire engines and crews through four retractable glass bay doors on the first floor. The project aims for a minimum LEED Silver certification.

“The significant amount of display area visible from the street and the siting of the lobby and community room near the public entrance provide an inviting element to the general public and enhances the pedestrian experience,” said the planning commission report on the building from April 2016. “The fire station would expand upon the existing civic character of the area established by the adjacent public library.”

Late February, the city finalized a land swap with controversial developer NMS Properties to exchange public property at 1338 and 1321 5th street for a lot big enough for the station at 1337 7th Street. The land swap involved moving spaces from a private parking easement at the 7th Street location to a separate NMS property at 1430 Lincoln Blvd, where the developer is building a 5-story 100-unit apartment complex.

The existing 11,000-square-foot Fire Station No. 1 at 1444 7th Street will remain operational throughout construction, with a potential move-in date in early 2020. The station currently houses Engine 1, Engine 6, a 100-foot ladder truck with a five-person crew, an air/light/rescue unit and a command vehicle with a battalion chief. The city has no current plans for the old building or property once it becomes vacant.

Bernards was not the lowest bidder for the project, which includes a $2.6 million contingency, “but offered comprehensive knowledge and experience having previously successfully completed two fire station projects,” according to the staff report submitted to City Council.

Bernards provides in-house management services which documents building system conflicts to aid in future maintenance of facilities.

Kate Cagle

Senior reporter for the Santa Monica Daily Press