Plans to build a new fire hall in Wallowa took a step backward recently when it was learned that Rural Development of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the agency set to fund most of the project, rejected the city's bid proposal.

Paul Kershisnik of Rural Development's Pendleton office said that the design/build segment of the bid was not in compliance with federal law. "My hands are tied," said a man who has been involved with the fire hall project the last three years. "It is a congressional law that I have to work with."

Kershisnik said it was good to discover the anti design/build clause before they had sent the proposal back to Washington D.C. for final approval because D.C. might have canceled the entire project.

As it is, he said, the project may only be delayed one to two months.

In the past week the city hired the engineering firm of Edwards & Cummings out of Ontario and Umatilla to draw up the design plans.

The city of Wallowa has been granted a unique, one time only $175,000 Rural Development fire hall grant because of its unemployment rate, small population and low mediun income level. With no advice to the contrary, the city council elected to put the building out for bid with a design package included in the bid. As determined last week, the city is required to do its engineering/architectural work separately, then put the project out for bid.

Caught in the middle of the dilemma is Mike Becker Construction of La Grande which was awarded a bid of $196,308 contingent on Rural Development approval of the bid package. Now Becker will have to re-enter the bidding process.

"They did not do anything wrong," said Kershisnik of the council's decision to combine the engineering/architectural element with the bid. He said the $175,000 grant is considerably larger than most grants his office works with. A $50,000 grant would be more in line with their normal grant size. "Typically we do not do design/builds," he said.

Wallowa Mayor Marge Sarmento said that the anti design/build clause kicks in on projects that exceed $100,000.

"By this fall that building will be constructed," said Kershisnik confidently. He foresees only a month to two months delay as the city determines what engineer it wishes to work with, has the plans drawn up and again goes back for Rural Development approval.

Because of expected weather delays from the previous plan, Kershisnik suggests the possibility that there could be no delay in constructing the metal building.

Though neither Sarmento nor Kershisnik would estimate the engineering costs, they can come out of the basic $175,000 grant. It is hoped that taking the engineering/architectural element out of the bid will lower future submitted bids accordingly.

Preliminary plans, said Kershisnik, were drawn up by Edwards & Cummings which was assisted by Anderson Perry & Associates of La Grande in putting together the original bid package.

Though some specifications, basic elevations and basic footprints have been compiled, additional information on such areas as plumbing and electrical must be completed before the package can pass Rural Development inspection.

In an effort to reduce costs on the project the initial plan is to frame in a fire chief's office, a conference room and city hall to be finished at a later date when additional funds become available.

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