Members of the Lehighton Fire Department detailed plans Saturday for a multimillion dollar construction project that would connect the Lehigh Fire Company No. 1 building (Station 1) with the century-old Engine Company 2 (Station 2) structure.

It was stressed that the project is dependent on state grants, specifically a grant through the office of state Rep. Keith McCall, totaling $2.2 million. The fire company officials said they anticipate receiving word on the grant before McCall leaves office at the end of this year.

The project involves the demolition of three houses that the fire company has purchased with the construction in mind.

Details of the project were detailed at a special meeting of Lehighton Borough Council. Also present were two representatives of the architectural firm H2M of Parsippany, N.J.

Because the grant would be allocated specifically to the borough, the council will have to hire the architect.

Joseph M. Muttola, vice president of architecture for H2M, said he will provide a proposal to the council for its Nov. 22 meeting. The council is expected to decide at this meeting whether or not to hire H2M.

About 15 members of the Lehighton Fire Department and Lehigh Fire Company No. 1 attended the meeting.

Fire Chief Jack Kuller said numerous architectural firms were interviewed and the fire department felt H2M was the best choice for the project.

One of the things Muttola stressed is that if the fire department proceeds with the project, that a construction manager be hired. The manager would oversee the project from the bidding stage through the completion.

"Dollar wise, this project would warrant a construction manager," he noted.

Muttola explained that the scope of the project is "trying to marry" the two existing fire houses. He said the project could be done without interruption to existing fire and police operations. A police department is currently being constructed in Station 2.

Former Fire Chief Edward Conarty Jr. asked about the fees for a construction manager, to which Muttola replied that it is generally between 5 and 7 percent of the project cost.

Muttola said there are three basic phases to the project: preliminary work and planning (during which a construction manager is hired); construction document phase; and then the actual construction in which the construction manager takes charge.

"You couldn't come up with a better time to build," Muttola said in support of the project and noting that the state of the economy has provided competitive construction costs.

Phase 1 of the design will cost $50,000 and take about two months, he said. He added that of this amount, $25,000 will be credited to the next phase.

Additional costs will include surveying, soil boring, and testing for asbestos and lead. Such additional costs could be as much as $30,000 to $45,000.

The time frame would be about seven months from the start of planning to the hiring of a contractor, said Daniel Meehan, architectural studio director for H2M. He said this includes the period for advertising and reviewing bids.

Meehan said that no firm estimate could be given until planning work was completed, but it is preliminarily estimated that the project might cost $3-to-$5 million.

"It may be scaled down," said Meehan. "It's way too premature to get hung-up on the aspects of the building."

He added that he agreed the existing buildings are a "hardship" for the volunteer firefighters, noting they bump into each other putting on gear and that going back and forth to the two stations is not the ideal setting. Backing apparatus into the buildings is difficult because the bays are so narrow.

Councilman John Bird expressed concern about the condition of the 1910 building, but Muttola said part of the design phase would be reviewing the feasibility of utilizing that structure. Also, even though the buildings will be connected, there will be spacing that keeps them separated.

Kuller stated, "Even if this grant would dry up, we must work to the future." He explained that even doing preliminary planning will put the fire company in an advantageous competition position for future grants.

Council member Bruce Trauptman asked who would pay for the preliminary planning. Kuller said he feels the fire company has the funds available.

Fire company member Steve Ebbert urged the council to work with the fire company on the project immediately, and said of McCall leaving office, "We will be losing that asset in Harrisburg. We need to move forward before he leaves Harrisburg."

Conarty agreed, adding that the project "will benefit the taxpayers."

"You couldn't afford a (fire) department like you have today if it was paid," he said.