Making progress on public safety facilities

It’s an understatement to say Tupper Lake’s fire and police buildings are in rough shape. They’re too old and too small, and in many other ways they’re just not suitable for modern use – and they’ve been that way for a long time.

The building that houses the local rescue squad is in better shape, but it’s too small as well.

For more than 20 years, local officials have occasionally floated the concept of a shared public safety building for all three departments, and even town offices, too. In 1994, voters decided otherwise, nixing such a building by a more than three-to-one margin – with high turnout, too. They didn’t want to take on that kind of municipal debt.

Therefore, the departments made do. Now, 19 more years of depreciation have taken their toll on those buildings, making the need for new ones that much greater.

A major problem, however, is that Tupper Lake’s economy is worse now than it was in 1994. The tax hikes needed to pay off a new debt might hurt more now than they would have then.

Still, taxpayers have gone the last 19 years without those hikes, and it’s only common sense that at some point the community must put money into its emergency services facilities. At some point it will cost more to live with facilities that are decrepit, inadequate and liabilities. That’s why we are in favor of building new ones.

Adding to the build-it side of the argument is that the police department is being sued by a woman who fell down the stairs while she was in custody. In a way, she’s suing the entire community, since it was voters who turned down the police’s request for a new station. Is that a liability? We’ll see. This case could cost the village significantly, although we hope not.

Local officials are on track to solve this problem and have been working with Sean Foran of the Hueber Breuer firm, whom they became acquainted with after he worked on the new firehouse in Keene (where the old one was washed away by Tropical Storm Irene). We have been impressed by the openness and thoughtfulness of the process so far. There have been many public meetings at which options, details and ideas were thoroughly aired and people were listened to. Best of all, those meetings have shown results. Progress has been made. The goal now is to have a structure with a roof before next winter and a finished building by June 2014 – at least for the fire department.

The rescue squad seems ready to opt out for now, although an addition could be put on the new building for them.

As for police, it’s being studied whether it would be more cost-effective to have them and the fire department in the same building or separate ones.

That’s fine, but let’s make sure all three emergency services departments get the facilities they need. Let’s not leave any of them on the back burner for years to come.

On the other hand, it’s absolutely necessary that these facilities not be wasteful or luxurious. Local leaders have been hearing about new firehouses in Watertown and Gouverneur that were built for less money than is being projected for Tupper’s new station, and they plan to visit both. Good.

Another idea Tupper Lakers could take from the Gouverneur firehouse is the outdoor skating rink volunteers built beside it. Tupper Lake village trustees have been trying to set up such a rink in the Municipal Park, but in the long run, the preferred firehouse site on Santa Clara Avenue might be better, for several reasons:

-It’s close to the park, so it’s still centrally located and easy to get to.

-It’s next to the civic center, where people already go to ice skate.

-The firehouse often would have drivers and volunteers inside, so there might be more passive supervision of kids than at a Municipal Park rink.

-And it would seem that fire hoses would be good tools for flooding the rink.

It sounds like May is when a referendum will be held on this. We urge planners to give voters a facility they can afford, and if so, we think it would be wise to vote yes this time.

P.S.: Saranac Lakers, many of you may want to watch this matter with interest since your fire and police stations also have issues, although not as severe as Tupper Lake’s.