Police-fire dilemma

TUPPER LAKE – A plan to build a shared-services building in the village of Tupper Lake has been in the works for 10 years, but as a May 1 deadline draws near, there is fear it might not happen.

Village Trustee Rick Donah, who is also the village fire commissioner, put those fears to paper in a letter addressed to U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Sen. Charles Schumer and Rep. Bill Owens.

The letter, sent last week, explains how it took a group of community volunteers to develop a plan, and how it also took a series of public meetings to finally convince local taxpayers to invest $3.2 million to construct a much-needed new building to house the village’s police and fire departments. That building is slated to go on Santa Clara Avenue next to the Tupper Lake Civic Center.

The letter also explained how that deal was contingent upon Hueber Breuer’s construction manager, Sean Foran, fulfilling his responsibility to secure another $1.3 million in federal grants to pay for the project.

The village hired the Syracuse-based Hueber Breuer to develop a feasibility study for the project, which was completed in September 2012. That company will also handle construction management. The project went out to bid, and the two bids that came in lowest were from the Watertown-based Bette & Cring Construction Group, which won the general contracting job, and the Peru-based J. Hogan Refrigeration & Mechanical Inc., which won for refrigeration and mechanical work.

Since the status of the grant money is uncertain, the bid process has been extended twice: first at an Oct. 1, 2013, deadline, and again at an April 1 deadline. The current bid extension expires May 1.

“The price of everything, on labor and supplies, goes up over time, and this is no exception,” Donah said. “That bid was based on 2012 prices, and at $75 a square foot, it came in well under what we expected. If we can’t get started May 1, the cost of everything is going to go up if we have to go out to bid again. It was hard enough convincing the taxpayers to get behind this once.”

At the town board meeting last week, Donah told council members that federal grants were initially being sought to pay for the project, but he recently learned that state grants are now being considered.

In his letter to Gillibrand, Schumer and Owens, Donah wrote, “Our construction consultants, Syracuse-based Hueber Breuer, Inc. have provided our community with a feasibility study, a construction financing plan, and a promise of federal or state grant applications, but we cannot continue to be kept in the dark on these discussions.”

He then wrote that an answer is urgent and that he welcomed an opportunity to discuss the next step in this process.

The Enterprise spoke with Foran Thursday morning. He said he has been communicating with village Mayor Paul Maroun at least once a week for the last six months, but he wouldn’t say whether the grants will happen.

“The bottom line is, we are actively pursuing grants at both the state and federal level to assist this project,” Foran said. “It’s interesting because, when we’re developing fire stations that have a need, as Tupper Lake does, and we’re trying to encourage funding sources that are not tax-based, we never know quite where we’re going to end up. If we’re not able to secure state or federal funding by May 1, the project will probably go on more of a long-term hold.”

Foran said his main goal is to get Tupper Lake into a position so the project can move forward. He said Hueber Breuer has completed 10 fire stations in the last 10 years, including ones in the towns of Keene and Jay.

Foran said he’d be at the next village board meeting at 6 p.m. Monday.

After last Monday’s public budget hearing, Maroun told the Enterprise that he had heard from Foran but couldn’t recall when that last happened.

“Myself and (state) Senator Betty Little – let me repeat that, myself and Betty Little, not Hueber Breuer – have been contacting the governor’s office to see if he can help us,” Maroun said. “There is flow-through money out there that he can designate in circumstances like this, and I’m hoping we can get him to do that for us now.”

The fire station

Donah stood outside the fire station on High Street in Tupper Lake and pointed to a dark, jagged line that starts at the top of the building and continues downward for several feet like a crudely drawn bolt of lightning. That, he said, is where the front of the building is separating from the rest of the structure.

Inside on the second floor, where the hardwood floor glistens in the light of the setting sun and old black-and-white photographs of past fire crews are proudly displayed, there is 6-inch space beneath the windows that look out onto the street below.

“This is a problem,” Donah said, sliding his hand between the edge of the floor and the wall.

A trip down the steep, narrow stairwell leads to the garage. Before opening the door, Donah mentions how the building isn’t handicap accessible.

“There’s these stairs and a fire escape,” Donah said. “That’s it.”

Inside the garage is another problem. There are four fire trucks – a tanker, two large pumpers and one small pumper – crammed in just a few feet from each other, from the exterior walls and from the building’s steel support poles. When there’s a fire call, a driver can only open the driver’s side door as far as the nearby cement wall allows to squeeze into the cab. The truck must then be driven out of the garage before other firefighters can hop in.

That takes time, something that is fleeting when a building is burning.

These four trucks aren’t the only ones the department owns, either. A brush truck and a third pumper truck are stored in the old fire station on Pine Street, and the ladder truck, which is only used when dealing with particularly large fires, is stored behind a dump truck and several plow trucks in the town of Tupper Lake’s highway department garage, also on Pine Street.

“If we know we’re going to need the ladder truck, we have to call the highway superintendent, and a guy has to move all those trucks, and that takes time,” said fire driver Joe Cormier. “We’re scattered all over the place.”

He said the new shared-service building would remedy the time lapse of rounding up trucks from various garages.

“If we need the tower ladder, it can leave immediately,” Cormier said. “Since a lot of the calls we get are possible structure fire or possible chimney fire, we don’t even know until we get to the scene, so that can make a big difference. It could save lives.”

The police station

The village police station has its own set of issues. Its entrance is in the back of the village office building on Park Street, down a narrow stairwell that led to a morgue about 60 years ago.

That set of stairs, which can present problems when officers have to escort a combative arrestee into the station, leads to a hallway. To the right is a row of cells that were decommissioned by the state Department of Corrections almost a year ago due to plumbing issues that included leaky pipes and sewer gas odors. Costly repairs could have been made, but Chief Eric Proulx said those were forgone once taxpayers approved the new building.

“We decided not to sink any money into this place because we thought we were going to be moving in a year,” Proulx said. “That was the lone factor. We were either going to have to sink money into them to use them, or we were going to have to shut them down, so that’s what we did.”

Plumbing is only the beginning of the station’s problems. As snow throughout the region melted recently, water seeped into the station Tuesday from the base of the stairs. Since the floor isn’t level, Proulx said a half-inch of water flowed from the entry down the hallway, through the booking room and into the main meeting room throughout the day.

The term “booking room” is used fairly loosely at the station. Since the cells were decommissioned, that small space is also used as an interrogation room and a holding cell, which overflows into the hallway if several arrestees are brought in at once.

Proulx said the lack of space also makes it difficult to deal with cases in the station. He added that arrestees also deserve a level of privacy. If someone comes in to make a complaint, any suspect who happens to be there is in full view.

“When you’re dealing with the public down here, generally a case involves a suspect and a victim, and the way we’re set up now, there’s interaction between everybody,” Proulx said. “If a person is under arrest, they’re right in the middle of the station. They deserve a level of privacy. I don’t think people enjoy being arrested and having people seeing them under arrest and in that situation.”

Privacy is an issue for the officers, too. There is one locker room in the station, which Proulx described as “dirty and dusty,” that is never used by the officers due to its condition. Officers usually opt to wear their uniforms to work instead of changing at the station, and there is no separate locker room for the department’s one female officer, Heather Kennedy.

Proulx said he and the officers had a say in designing the new building, and he said it would alleviate many of the issues he mentioned. Included in the plans are a booking room, an interrogation room, a juvenile room and offices for police supervisors. The plans also include garage space. Proulx said the department’s current garage, behind the village office building, would still be used to store larger things like impounded vehicles and extra police vehicles.

“The current building has exceeded its life expectancy for what we need,” Proulx said. “Back when they made this building, you didn’t have computers, you didn’t have a lot of the tools you need to be a cop now. Back then it was a cop with a duty belt and the keys to the car. Now you’ve got all this computer equipment and all these different things you need to do stuff, and we’re out of room.”

Contact Shaun Kittle at 891-2600 ext. 25 or skittle@adirondackdailyenterprise.com.