Moving forward with fire station

TUPPER LAKE – If it gets to referendum in May, a new fire station could be completed by June 2014.

The Emergency Services Building Committee held a forum Wednesday night to update the public on the progress of the building.

“We’ve made a lot of progress since we’ve last talked to you,” said Sean Foran, the consultant who the village hired to first complete a feasibility study on the project and now take the village through the process of a referendum on it. Foran works for a firm called Hueber Breuer.

Foran said the committee wants to take the next few weeks and gather as much input from the public as possible. During that time, a grant writer will also compile a list of possible grants Tupper Lake could get for such a building, and she will start applying for those, Foran said.

One of the questions still up in the air is whether the building would include both the fire and police departments. Both squads have severely lacking facilities now, but Foran said it has yet to be determined whether the most cost-effective strategy is to put them both in the same building or not.

There is one grant from the Department of Justice that encourages the co-location of multiple emergency response squads, so if Tupper Lake can get that grant, it would make sense to put both in the new building, he said.

As things stand, Foran said it doesn’t look like the rescue squad will be able to join the building, but the committee wants to leave space for an addition onto it in case the rescue squad decides it wants to get on board in the future.

Once the committee members decide whether to include the police station, they can figure out the space needs for the new building, which will dictate the budget for it. At that point, spending on the project can be taken to a public vote, Foran said.

The site needs to also be finalized before the vote. The initial process for that is going well, Foran said. The committee recommended through the feasibility study that a site on Santa Clara Avenue would be the best and most cost-effective fit for the building. It’s about 2 acres owned by a private individual, and that person’s asking price is $80,000, Foran said. The next step is for the village to execute a letter of first refusal with the landowner, which would give the village priority if someone else were to look at purchasing the property, which is between the Civic Center and the former Alaskan Oil station on Demars Boulevard.

“We think it’s a pretty good site,” Foran said.

Another site, next to the village Department of Public Works garage, is nearby and is an option, but it’s set back from the road, so visibility and access would be compromised there, Foran said.

“Can it work if it has to?” Foran said. “Probably. But it’s not ideal.”

His goal is to hold a referendum in May so, if it passes, the project can be ready to award bids in July and construction can start in August. That would mean the building could have a roof on it by winter and be completed by June 2014. If it doesn’t have a roof by winter, the costs start to escalate because the site needs to be sealed each day after it’s worked on, Foran said.

At the end of Wednesday’s forum, Foran asked everyone who attended to fill out a questionnaire. It asked several questions, like, do you support the idea of replacing the current station, and do you believe the committee has been thorough and complete? There were also two questions Foran called the “big one(s)”: whether people are in favor of including the police department in the project, and which site they prefer.

There was also space on the form for comments, which Foran called the most important part.

He has stressed throughout the process that his goal is to make it as open as possible so all the stakeholders and community members see why certain options are chosen or ruled out.

Foran said the committee is planning to put sealed boxes in the village offices, town hall, current fire station and possibly at Stewart’s Shop to gather input from the public on the project.

“We want to know what people really think about this project, and it can all be anonymous,” Foran said.

Mayor Paul Maroun said he and town Supervisor Roger Amell have been getting a lot of calls about new fire stations in Watertown and Governeur that have been built for less money than is being projected for Tupper’s new station, and they plan to go visit both.

“We’re not hiding anything,” Maroun said. “We’re looking at all options.”

Foran agreed, saying he’s interested in seeing those fire halls and seeing if they can give Tupper Lake ideas for a better project. That’s his mission, he said.

“That’s what we do,” Foran said. “I’m looking for the most cost-effective way to get this done.”

Another forum to update the public is expected in about a month.