Construction is continuing on Truro Township's Station 161 -- even though the contractor backed out of the project last month -- thanks to a surety bonding company that now is handling the project.

In a Feb. 6 letter sent by email and certified mail to fire Chief Jeff Sharps, Palmetto Construction LLC said it had "voluntarily defaulted" on its contract to build the $3.9 million station. The letter said the Columbus-based company "is unable to complete the ... contract" but did not say why.

The letter was signed by Casey Cusack and Jerry Diodore, both principals in the company.

An email to the company seeking comment was unanswered; a recording on the company's telephone line said the voicemail box was full and could no longer accept messages.

The Ohio Farmers Insurance Company/Westfield Group, the project's surety bonding company, took over for Palmetto in mid-February and has retained most of the subcontractors originally hired by Palmetto, township officials said.

According to the Ohio Department of Insurance, a surety bond "provides peace of mind to the parties requiring the bond that if a project can't be completed, the monies will be available to pay for completion."

Truro Township trustee Pat Mahaffey said there has been a "lot of movement at the station."

"They didn't really miss a beat," he said. "Three days later, there were people on the job and there's been a steady stream of workers in there ever since. Construction isn't a perfect science and it's unfortunate that Palmetto had this problem ... but we made sure we had a good bonding agent in place."

Administrator Jason Nicodemus said Truro Township had paid Palmetto $1,611,744 though Dec. 31, 2018.

Because of the surety bond, the delay is not expected to increase construction costs, officials said.

Sharps said work on the building is about half finished. Palmetto's default means the opening of Station 161 again will be delayed -- this time until August.

Its original December 2018 completion date was moved to January 2019 because heavy rain the previous spring delayed foundation work. The opening date was moved a second time to April this year before Palmetto backed out of the project.

"When we were vetting the prospective bidders, the township did everything it could in terms of our due diligence," Sharps said. "Nothing that we saw gave us any indication that this was going to happen or we wouldn't have picked (Palmetto).

"We are doing anything and everything in our power to make that opening date," Sharps said. "This project has gone slowly, but if we can get it done by August, we're looking at about 18 months since we demolished the old station. We're making sure we're spending the taxpayers' money properly. That station has to be built right and it's got to last."

The 16,471-square-foot building at 6900 E. Main St. is being constructed on the same site as the old Station 161. When finished, it will have three bays and living quarters for up to 11 firefighters per shift, a training room and more than 700 square feet of administrative offices.

The new station was made possible by a 2.5-mill levy approved in November 2016.

Mahaffey said the Main Street fire station has been a visible part of the community for decades and he is looking forward to cutting the ribbon on the new firehouse.

"The fire department deals with emergencies every day, so in that scheme of things, this is not an emergency. Nobody's life is in jeopardy," he said. "We'd rather have it a different way, but the fire department deals with emergencies and catastrophes every day.

"Everybody loves the fire department for good reason. When you're sick or you've had an accident, you want the fire department there quickly, so having that station where it is gives us a more advantageous response time. It's important to the community for it to be back open again."

The Truro Township Fire Department serves about 38,000 people in Truro Township, the city of Reynoldsburg and the village of Brice. It had 7,793 runs in 2017, according to department records. Of those, 6,767 were for emergency services and 1,026 were fire runs.

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