Planning continues for new CB fire district safety campus

Construction likely to start in 2024…will $22M be enough?

By Mark Reaman

The Crested Butte Fire Protection District (CBFPD) is trying to wrap up some key details with its proposed new fire station and search-and-rescue building to be located by the Crested Butte cemetery. Negotiations have started with the Town of Crested Butte about obtaining water and sewer service to the two buildings. The CBFPD is also lining up land use reviews with Gunnison County; those should be completed after a May public hearing before the planning commission. Construction of the 28,500 square feet of buildings could start in the spring of 2024.  

The new emergency services campus will be located on land along Gothic Road adjacent to Crested Butte that was previously owned by Spann Ranches. The district closed on a deal last December paying the Spanns $2.5 million for two parcels totaling 7.5 acres. The acquisition was made possible by the November 2021 voter-approved $25.5 million bond issue ($29 million in total available proceeds) for the safety campus. The campus was to include a fire station, search-and-rescue building and a fourplex of affordable housing for district employees. 

So far, the district has spent bond funds on the land, and it is expected that design and consulting costs will tally $1.7 million. The project is budgeted for $22 million in hard construction costs, while $1.2 million is set aside for workforce housing and $1.6 million is budgeted for “soft costs” such as tap fees, furniture and other equipment.

The fire district had rejected the Town of Crested Butte’s offer of free land in the same area because of the requirements that the town would have imposed in exchange for the parcel, primarily related to sustainable building. CBFPD CEO Sean Caffrey described the property recently acquired by the district as split by the Slate River, and the CBFPD’s building plans will be centered on the four acres on the west side of the Slate closest to Crested Butte.

“The district has been actively engaged in the planning and design process for the emergency services campus that will be located just north of the Town of Crested Butte,” he said. “Current plans are for an approximately 22,500 square-foot fire station that will include the fire district headquarters, four drive-through bays for ambulances and fire equipment, six bedrooms for on-duty staff, and a 40-seat meeting room available to the public. Final floor plans, exterior and interior design features are still under development. Also on the site will be an approximately 6,000 square-foot search-and-rescue facility that will include four vehicle bays as well as equipment storage, along with meeting and administrative space for the Crested Butte Mountain Rescue Team (CBMRT),” Caffrey shared.

Caffrey explained that increasing construction cost estimates since the bond issue was approved have caused the CBFPD to “look for economies wherever possible as the final project takes shape. The buildings are about one-third smaller than previous designs dating back to 2021,” he said. “Additionally, the SAR [search-and-rescue] facility is now programmed as a pre-engineered metal building to reduce costs. Despite a total construction budget remaining of almost $22 million, portions of both buildings are currently expected to be ‘core and shell’ space that can be finished at a later date if necessary to reduce cost. The CBFPD is currently pursuing grant funds to complete the SAR facility. Future CBFPD operational funds may also be needed to complete the fire station.” 

Caffrey said the district does not expect another bond issue will be necessary to complete the project, and added, “We will complete the buildings as needed with regular operating funds as time and budget allow.”

The district has been working with Gunnison County on land use and access issues related to the site and those discussions have been proceeding well according to Caffrey. A hearing is scheduled before the Gunnison County Planning Commission on May 18. “We are utilizing a modified version of the minor land use change process reflective of the district’s location and extent authority to utilize modified land use procedures for public entities,” Caffrey explained. “The county’s public works department has been helpful in working through access issues to Gothic Road for general site access and emergency vehicle egress.”

Caffrey said negotiations are ongoing with the Town of Crested Butte about potential connection to the town water and sewer systems. The town council held an executive session to discuss the issue at its March 6 meeting. 

“Town received a request for utilities and the council is considering under what conditions they would be willing to extend one or both (sewer and water),” said town manager Dara MacDonald. MacDonald explained that if CBFPD responds before the next meeting, another executive session to discuss the matter may be held on March 20.

Unlike previous plans, Caffrey said workforce housing for district members is not currently included on the campus site. He explained that the CBFPD is exploring “multiple off-site options” to purchase or build housing units and has reserved at least $1.2 million for that purpose in addition to the campus budget. “A fire training building, an optional component of the bond measure, does not look feasible at this point. However, it may be possible to place that building on either the new campus site or behind CBFPD Station 2 in Mt. Crested Butte at some point in the future,” he said.

In terms of sustainability building features, Caffrey said the fire station will primarily utilize a high-efficiency variable refrigerant flow (VRF) air source heat pump system. The planning teams continue to investigate the best options to heat the large garage bays in the fire and SAR buildings. However, Caffrey explained that a natural gas system may be required in the near term to meet the heating demands of those spaces and to provide a backup to the heat pumps at very low temperatures. 

“The district does intend to ensure both buildings are appropriately wired for solar panels and is hopeful that contingency and/or grant funds will be available to install PV (photovoltaic) at the time of initial construction to further reduce the carbon footprint of the buildings,” he said.

Construction is expected to take about two years after breaking ground. “The completion time is unclear with the current state of the construction market and supply chains, however we are thinking plus or minus 25 months is reasonable,” Caffrey concluded.

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