Emergency services building consultant rebuts concerns

TUPPER LAKE – Fire officials and the consultant bringing the village to a referendum on a proposed emergency services building rebutted some concerns about the project at a town board meeting Thursday.

In its April 17 issue, the Tupper Lake Free Press ran photos on its front page of the Gouverneur fire hall and an editorial advocating for a similar metal building, arguing it would be cheaper and more cost-effective. The newspaper also recommended renovating the existing fire hall for the police department.

Sean Foran, a Hueber-Breuer consultant hired by the village, told the town board that a metal building would not suit Tupper Lake’s needs. He said they have their uses, but as an emergency services building, which is supposed to be the last building standing in any disaster, it’s not appropriate. To make it meet codes governing such buildings, it would need to be reinforced so much that the cost would come out to close to the cost of a regular building, he said.

“They become, cost-wise, not effective,” Foran said.

Foran said he’s been to the Gouverneur fire station, and when he visited, he was greeted by a fire official who said, “Welcome to my disaster.”

The structure was built in 2005 privately by the fire department there and didn’t use prevailing wage requirements, which would be illegal now. It doesn’t meet a number of codes and has no real foundation, just a slab of concrete under it.

“It’s a big barn right now,” Foran said.

He said the fire department is already putting away $25,000 a year for repairs and maintenance to the structure.

He also noted that a metal building would likely only get a 20-year bond, not a 30-year bond like the village is planning, so it would be more expensive annually for taxpayers.

In addition to that, a metal building doesn’t last as long as a regular building.

“They’re not a 50-year-plus building,” Foran said.

He and several fire officials also argued that the current fire station on High Street wouldn’t be suitable even if renovated.

They said there’s no room there for the fire department. First Assistant Chief Royce Cole noted that he now has to call the town highway superintendent to get one of the fire department’s trucks from the town garage, because the department doesn’t have room to house it in the firehouse.

Foran argued that the new building needs the police department to move there because $1.3 million the village is anticipating in grant money for the project stems from including the police.

The conversation came after Foran gave a presentation on the project to the town board. Several town board members have been involved in the planning process since Foran was brought on board to produce a feasibility study on the building, but the Emergency Services Building Committee thought it would be a good idea to give a presentation on the project to the full town board.

He described the current plan: a one-story building housing both the Volunteer Fire Department and the village police department that will be about 15,000 square feet. It is planned for a lot on Santa Clara Avenue, next to the Civic Center.

Current plans include it having a flat roof, which Foran said is cheaper to maintain and causes fewer problems than a sloped roof, and a fractured block exterior, which he said is more durable than other materials and more cost-effective than brick masonry.

The plan does not include garage doors on both sides of the building, which would allow fire trucks to drive through without backing up. Foran said it would be cost-prohibitive. He said he and former fire Chief Mark Picerno visited fire stations that had such a setup but didn’t make use of it, instead storing older trucks in front of the back doors.

“They didn’t use the doors at all,” Picerno said.

Councilwoman Patti Littlefield asked whether Foran was certain the site is clean. Foran said he didn’t know yet because he decided that he didn’t want to spend any money on testing the site unnecessarily.

He said if there is contamination on the site, there’s contingency in the construction budget to deal with a small amount, and he expects the project could get federal money to clean up a large amount. But he said his gut tells him it won’t be a problem since the neighboring Alaskan Oil site has been cleaned up and he doesn’t believe the site has ever been developed.

“I don’t believe the site’s hot,” Foran said.

The Emergency Services Building Committee is holding a public forum on the project Tuesday at the Goff-Nelson Memorial Library.

Village residents will be given a chance to vote on the project from noon to 9 p.m. at the library. Only people who were registered in the village to vote in the November 2012 general elections will be allowed to vote in the referendum.

If the referendum passes, Foran said the project will be ready to request bids by July 1, and if construction starts by Aug. 1, Foran expects the building to have a roof on it by next winter’s snowfall.