Lewiston fire station building committee dissolves amid questions

·3 min read

Aug. 5—LEWISTON — As the city conducts a soft opening for its new fire station on North Temple Street, the building committee that developed the first of three substations has been dissolved.

But, it's not going away quietly.

Two members of the committee, which began its work in 2018, spoke out Tuesday during the City Council meeting about the multiyear process, stating the committee has largely been ignored.

Due to an earlier oversight, the council had never formally recognized the formation of the committee, and a resolution passed Tuesday by the council both formally established, and concluded, its work.

Two of its members, Dennis Theriault and Harry Miliken, said they didn't understand why the committee was dissolving, and said they'd been left out of the loop on important decisions. The resolution passed Tuesday states that the committee's advisory role has concluded now that the new station is complete.

"I don't agree," Theriault responded. "I think we've got a lot more to do, and two more stations."

He later added, "Tonight's resolution is inaccurate and misleading as presented by the city administrator."

From the start of the process, officials have repeated an overall plan to develop the first substation, then use the same building plans for the other two stations — part of a multiyear process to replace all three Lewiston substations.

"To benefit the city, this committee needs to continue as the people who are already on it," Miliken said. "You already have expertise."

Theriault brought up issues that he said already exist with the new station, and said the building committee's work should continue in order to make sure similar mistakes aren't made on the next two stations. He also said the committee was met with "continued stonewalling" by city administration regarding questions relating to the North Temple Street station.

Theriault disputed language in Tuesday's resolution thanking the committee for delivering a project that came in "on time and under budget." He argued it wasn't on time and the committee hadn't even been told what the final budget was.

When asked, interim City Administrator Heather Hunter said the project budget was $5.57 million, with $4.86 million spent so far. She said an additional $24,000 is needed for "access controls" for the new station.

"The result is a $686,718 project surplus," she said.

Hunter added that, moving forward, "the mayor and City Council will determine if a new ad-hoc building committee will be created."

Theriault countered that cost overruns, project changes and other issues took place toward the end of construction that the building committee was never told.

Hunter replied Wednesday that the industry average anticipates about 10% of project costs in "change orders," which describes changes to a project during construction. She said the station had a total of 2.7% or $97,106. Of that amount, she said, $92,416 represents two change orders approved by the building committee prior to groundbreaking, with another $4,689 occurring post-groundbreaking, which was approved by the Finance Committee.

The City Council unanimously supported the resolution Tuesday. Councilor Luke Jensen said he wanted to offer his support for staff, "who I'm 100% supportive of in this situation. I want to make that clear."

Councilor Michel Lajoie said both committee members speaking Tuesday were assets to the process, but the resolution, "puts us on another page to start anew. But this time, have the proper documentation and direction so that the committee can follow through on it."

The building committee, which was appointed by then-Mayor Shane Bouchard, had a rocky start as well. Shortly after Bouchard made his appointments, which included five firefighters, it became the subject of a union grievance.

Other committee members included Fire Chief Brian Stockdale as chairman, resident Ray Hurilla, city buildings superintendent Louie Turcotte and several firefighters.

As the council was about to vote on the resolution, Theriault shouted from the audience, "I'm resigning!"