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Central Emergency Services needs $5 million more for new Soldotna station

Elizabeth Earl
Central Emergency Services' Station 1 in Soldotna.

Central Emergency Services in Soldotna needs $5 million more dollars than originally expected to build its new fire station. That follows a $16.5 million bond approved by service area voters two years ago, which was originally expected to cover a majority of the project costs.

The fire station is the latest 2022 bond project to come in over budget.

Assembly members approved for introduction on Tuesday an ordinance that would pull five million new dollars from Central Emergency Services’ operating fund to pay for the cost surge.

The project would replace the agency’s current station near the Soldotna Safeway. The existing building is a hodge-podge of add ons to a cinder block facility whose origins can be traced to the mid-1960’s, when the former community building was expanded to accommodate the fire station.

In the decades since, the station has become a central repository for staff at the agency’s other stations, who often pass through Soldotna while responding to calls. As their operations have grown, the agency says it’s maxed out of its current space.

Roy Browning is the chief of Central Emergency Services. He told assembly members during a committee meeting Tuesday that a contract for the station’s design was awarded last March. That’s also when a project manager was assigned.

“Through that process, other design development efforts were made to reduce the project scope as much as practical practical, due to higher than projected costs associated with the project design, and development additional funds are needed,” Browning said. “Part of that is increased cost of equipment, labor, shipping and inflation, increased project estimates and requires an increase in possible contingency funds.”

The Kenai Peninsula Borough is also working to reconcile funding shortfalls on the $65 million school maintenance bond, which also passed in 2022. The bond included 13 projects at 10 Kenai Peninsula Borough School District schools. The largest part of that bond is the reconstruction of Soldotna Elementary School. That project came in $13.5 million over initial cost estimates last fall.

In conjunction with the reconfiguration of the currently vacant Soldotna Prep School, the two projects account for the lion’s share of the bond. For that reason, the higher costs have stalled on the other projects while the borough figures out how to make up the difference.

Kevin Lyon, the school district’s director of planning and operations, presented updates on the school maintenance bond to school board members Monday. He said all of the project bids are coming in higher than expected.

“We've got a lot of them that are out getting constructed, we have some that are in design, and we still have a few that we're trying to figure out how that budget is going to all work with those installation costs that we're dealing with,” Lyon said.

The City of Soldotna encountered similar inflationary challenges with its own bond project. City voters approved a $15 million bond in 2022 for a 42,000 square foot field house, to be built next to the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex.

An updated cost estimate prepared for the city after the bond passed, though, came in $10 million over budget. City council members reduced the project scope to bring the project back under budget, but later added those cuts back when the actual project cost was close to the city’s original estimate.

Of the new fire station, Browning said Tuesday the agency hopes to hold a groundbreaking for the project in the next couple of months.

Assembly members will decide whether to approve the agency’s request during their June 18 meeting.

Prior to joining KDLL's news team in May 2024, O'Hara spent nearly four years reporting for the Peninsula Clarion in Kenai. Before that, she was a freelance reporter for The New York Times, a statehouse reporter for the Columbia Missourian and a graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism. You can reach her at
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