By Nick Diamantides
In spite of declining city revenues, and after nine years of efforts, the City of Signal Hill took a giant step forward last Tuesday night when it awarded an $8.6 million contract to an Irvine-based company for the construction of the Signal Hill Police Department’s new headquarters. Construction of the facility could start by November.
Because tax allocation bonds are financing the project, the contract had to be awarded by the Signal Hill Redevelopment Agency (RDA), which is composed solely of the five Signal Hill City Council members. The RDA awarded the contract to FTR International, Inc. after City Manager Ken Farfsing, Police Chief Tom Sonoff and Deputy City Manager Charlie Honeycutt made brief presentations.
Farfsing noted that the project has gone forward against overwhelming odds, receiving little federal funding and no state funding. He explained that city officials began discussing the need for a new police department headquarters in 2001, but actual planning for the project began in 2004 with former Police Chief Don Pedersen’s Blue Ribbon Committee that evaluated the need to build a new police station and ways to fund the project.
Outlining the history of the planning process, Farfsing explained that in 2005, the voters rejected a three-percent utility users’ tax to fund the project. He added that, after a long process that included community workshops, the Council selected the former “On the Green” site located at Walnut Avenue and 27th Street as the location for the new police station. “On October 6, 2009, the City Council, Redevelopment Agency and Public Finance Authority adopted resolutions authorizing the issuance of tax allocation bonds to finance the project,” Farfsing said. “The bonds were issued on October 29, 2009.”
Sonoff spoke next, describing some of the facets of the facility. “The new 21,500-square-foot police station will feature a modern dispatch center with state-of-the-art communications systems and an Emergency Operations Center (EOC) that is approximately 300 square feet larger than the EOC in the existing building,” he said. “The larger and modern EOC will greatly enhance the city’s ability to assist the community after a natural disaster or provide mutual aid to another community that needs Signal Hill’s assistance.”
Honeycutt noted that, prior to the bidding process, city staff had estimated the project to cost $13.5 million and that amount was budgeted for it. He explained, however, that, because of the decline in new construction throughout the United States, contractors are bidding for lower amounts than was true two or three years ago. He added that seven companies that successfully passed through the tough pre-qualification process all submitted bids substantially lower than the city’s $13.5 million estimate. FTR submitted the lowest bid.
Before voting on awarding the contract, Mayor Ed Wilson stressed that the City does not want to see a lot of change orders that would significantly increase the cost of construction. “Our policy is to stick as close to the budget as possible,” he said.
John Saliba, FTR vice president, was at the meeting too. “We take that very seriously,” he said. “We intend to have as few change orders as possible.”
The RDA approved the contract in a 4-0 vote. Board Member (and Councilwoman) Ellen Ward was absent.
The date for a groundbreaking ceremony has not yet been determined. Once begun, the project will take approximately 14 months to complete.