BELFAST — Emergency Management Director Dale Rowley reported to county commissioners March 3 on plans for a new emergency management building in Swanville, including the engineer’s cost estimate for the project so far and how the county can keep project costs down.

The county budgeted $2.5 million for the project, but currently engineers estimate costs at around $3.5 million, Rowley told The Republican Journal in a March 4 interview. However, the project is still in the engineering and permitting phase, and he thinks the cost will come down to around the amount budgeted as plans get finalized. Some minor aspects of the project were excluded to bring project costs down.

“Original cost estimate for the project was $6.7 million,” he said. “We budgeted $2.4 million. We made some minor changes; now, lo and behold, it is down to $3.5 million, which I still think is outrageous.”

At the meeting, Rowley discussed options to cut costs. They included having the county act as general contractor and subcontracting aspects of the project. There was also brief discussion about hiring Amish workers to construct the buildings.

The property sits on top of the Belfast Water District’s aquifer, so the EMA director is working with the water district to find solutions for its concerns regarding possible pollution caused by the project, Rowley said. Most of the measures the water district wants the county to incorporate into the project to reduce the likelihood of contamination are already in project plans.

Original plans for a sprinkler system had to be dropped because it turned out to be very costly, he said. He talked about aspects of the project that can be dropped now and built onto the project later for less money.

Commissioner Amy Fowler said when plans are finished, commissioners will have a better idea about what direction to take with project decisions. No votes were taken at the meeting regarding project decisions.

The new building will be constructed on county-owned land in Swanville near the county garden. There will be an office building with an attached garage and a storage shed on the property. The storage shed will have space for overflow from the county garden, will serve as a hub for local food pantries and Good Shepherd Food Bank and store FEMA supplies during emergencies, he said.

The current office provides no storage space and gets a lot of radio interference from the communications tower on the property, Rowley said. It will be renovated and used as office space for district attorneys, who are currently housed in the old Superior Court building on High Street downtown.

Rowley hopes to add solar panels to the new EMA building so it can operate off the grid in emergencies, he said.

The project will be funded from the $7.7 million the county will receive from the American Rescue Plan Act. He is hoping to break ground on the project in May, but that depends on when the project gets fully permitted. Engineering plans should be finished in the coming weeks.

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