Johnson County ambulance facility cost rises

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The new Johnson County Ambulance facility will cost $389,000 more than initial estimates, according to county officials.

On April 1, construction will begin on a new ambulance facility that will triple the storage space for ambulances in Iowa City and also house the county Medical Examiner’s Office.

Ambulance Service Director Steve Spenler said the volume of ambulance calls over the past four years has increased around 7 or 8 percent every year. In addition to more space, the service will have increased weekly hours, he said.

“We’ll be expanding our hours of operation for ambulances based in Iowa City from 92 to 112 hours a week,” he said.

Spenler said the increased hours will mean $70,000 more pay annually for employees.

At a meeting March 3, the Johnson County Board of Supervisors approved a Dubuque-based company’s bid for nearly $7.5 million to build the new facility. The cost is around 5.5 percent higher than the estimated $7.1 million, though Supervisor Lisa Green-Douglass said this fluctuation is not unusual.

“Estimates typically have a 5 percent leeway in either direction,” she wrote in an email on the Feb. 4 bid. “When contractors create a bid, they look at the architect’s design, they put together an estimate of materials and labor along with a timeline.”

The supervisors have budgeted money for the the building during the past three years. By law, supervisors must take the lowest responsive and responsible bid when using taxpayer’s money, Green-Douglas said.

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“We had 2 contractors give bids, and the lowest one came in approximately $389,000 over the estimate, or 5.5 percent over,” she said.

Portzen, the construction company whose bid was accepted, outbid a Cedar Rapids company that bid approximately $7.7 million.

Green-Douglass said with a large amount of construction in the area, it made sense to make a decision to build so that money is not wasted.

“For every three months a project is delayed, construction costs increase by 2.5 percent,” she said.

Andrew Wheeler, a public-relations worker for the Iowa Farm Bureau, said the bureau was satisfied a bond would not be needed and funds for the building would come from tax reserves.

Spendler said ambulances will be relocated in two weeks to prepare for the construction. One ambulance will be housed at 719 S. Capitol St., the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office general storage, and the other at the Iowa City Fire Department Station N. 4.

The space available to ambulance service will expand from 3,500 to 27,000 square feet, and the building will be shared with the Medical Examiner’s Office, the County’s Physical Planter’s Office [maintenance], and the Auditor’s Office voting equipment.

Iowa City has two ambulances in the current building, with more housed around the county.

Mike Hensch, an administrator for the Johnson County Medical Examiner, said his agency has been in “desperate need” of space since he joined the department in 2002.

“It’s difficult to maintain operations,” he said. “Those in the department are constantly trying to keep information confidential and always has to ‘make sure things are turned away,’ as people pass through the office space frequently.”

Hensch said the Medical Examiner’s Office currently resides in four locations in the county, and he is ready for the new building.

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