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Postponed fire district project frustrates McHenry residents

Published: Tuesday, March 26, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

McHENRY – A year after bids on a proposed expansion to the Elm Street fire station came in higher than expected, the project still is on hold.

The McHenry Township Fire Protection District has spent more than $1 million on the project and has nothing to show for it, said Don Allen, who lives and works as an architect in McHenry.

Allen outlined his concerns in a 10-minute presentation Thursday to the district’s board.

In preparation for a 4,700-square-foot expansion of administrative offices at its main station, 3601 W. Elm St. in McHenry, the district spent $800,000 to buy neighboring land for parking lots, $74,000 to demolish the buildings, and $230,000 to pay for architecture expenses.

The district expected construction to cost between $2.4 million and $2.8 million, but the lowest bid came in at $4.4 million.

The project has been on hiatus since the bids were rejected in April, leaving residents such as Allen asking where their money has gone.

Fire Chief Tony Huemann said the board is waiting to see how things develop with its other planned project. The district has signed a contract to buy property off Route 31 across from the Shah Center, and is in the due diligence phase before the sale becomes final.

The plan is to build a station there and possibly another in the southeast section of the district’s coverage area to improve response times, Huemann said.

Those stations could take some of the pressure off the central station, he said, but because the board isn’t at the design stage yet, it hasn’t yet delved into that option.

Regardless of what happens with the administrative offices, Huemann said, the land purchases were necessary.

The Illinois Department of Transportation is set to widen Richmond Road and improve the Elm Street and North Richmond Road intersection this summer.

The project will cut into the existing station’s parking lot, and the district can no longer use its exit onto North Richmond Road because it is too close to the intersection.

The district hopes to convert the undeveloped lots it bought to the north into a parking lot, Huemann said, and the exit onto Richmond Road would be farther north and far enough from the intersection.

Some residents still wonder how the district got so far on a project it ultimately found too expensive.

Huemann can’t answer that, but he said the board relied on an architect and engineers who also were surprised by the $2 million difference between the bids and the estimate. In the future, the board will remember it when assessing cost estimates, he said.

“Let’s give the board credit by saying when those bids came in way over budget, our board stopped it,” Huemann said.

However, an unsuccessful petition effort last fall pointed to the project as a reason the board should to be elected.

The five board members are appointed by a subcommittee of the McHenry County Board. The district covers McHenry Township and part of Nunda Township, and the municipalities of Bull Valley, Holiday Hills, Johnsburg, Lakemoor, McCullom Lake, McHenry and Ringwood.

“With recent fiscal irresponsibility within the McHenry Township Fire Protection District, it has become apparent that the current system of appointed trustees of the fire district is not working,” McHenry resident Dave Nellessen wrote in a letter to the editor of the Northwest Herald in October.

Allen feels the same way, he said, adding that elected members would bring professionalism and accountability to the board.

“They contributed $1.3 million to something that never should have happened,” he said.

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