Questions continue about police-fire building

TUPPER LAKE – The new emergency services building here is prompting more concerns.

At last week’s village board meeting, two residents, Eric Shaheen and former town Councilman Jerry Fletcher, fired questions at the board.

The discussion ended with village Trustee Rick Donah announcing he was stepping away from the project. Donah is the village’s fire commissioner and has been a vocal advocate for the building.

The conversation began when Mayor Paul Maroun gave an update on the project.

“There’s been an alteration of some of the steel design, and it’s been approved,” Maroun said. “We’re a little behind schedule, but they’ve informed me that they will have it done in the 50 weeks that was guaranteed in the contract.”

Shaheen asked how the redesign would affect the cost of the project.

“I’m concerned because this community can’t sustain any more taxes,” Shaheen said. “We’re at a point where most people are ready to break. It’s just unbearable. I don’t want to be here in three months because we’re up over the $5 million mark.”

Maroun assured Shaheen that the price of the project wouldn’t go up and said that, so far, the village board has managed to cut $600,000 from the overall cost, but Shaheen wasn’t convinced.

“It’s bad enough that the community was deceived to begin with. We voted on this not to borrow more than $3.2 million, and every one of you board members, quoted, said this project will not move forward without $1.3 million in (grant) funding,” Shaheen said, adding that the $500,000 grant secured in April was a long way from $1.3 million.

The project was originally estimated to cost $4.5 million, $3.2 million of which would be covered by town and village taxpayers. The remaining $1.3 million was supposed to come from federal grants that Hueber Breuer construction manager Sean Foran said he’d secure.

In April, it looked like the project wasn’t going to happen after Foran announced that he hadn’t found grants to fund it. A last-minute Economic Development Corporation grant for $500,000 was approved by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office, which allowed the project to begin.

The village board has since trimmed the total cost of the project to an estimated $3.78 million. Maroun has assured the public that the village board would continue seeking grants and ways to lower costs.

Construction began in June when village, town and county workers removed 5,000 tons of black dirt from the Santa Clara Avenue site and relocated it to the village sand pit. The project has been at a standstill ever since. Shaheen asked Maroun if the cost of having those employees dig the hole was factored into the project cost.

“We took five days of village employees and town employees that should’ve been doing stuff that we needed,” Shaheen said.

Maroun said the board assigns village employees as it sees fit. He added that he would talk to town Supervisor Patti Littlefield soon about an agreement from the town to help pay for the project. There is currently an agreement between the town and the village on current fire operations but not on the debt service for the new building.

Village Clerk Mary Casagrain said town and village taxpayers each pay 43.4 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value to fund the operations of the Tupper Lake Volunteer Fire Department.

The estimated increase is about 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value for village residents and about 35 cents per $1,000 for town residents.

Donah told Shaheen that he, too, was concerned about the project.

“I’ve stepped away from the project because I got frustrated with the professionals involved, running it,” Donah said. “Eric, I share the same concerns you do. Honestly. It’s been a very frustrating process because we were told, back in September when they delayed it, there was a reason for that delay, and it was like a shell game. We never knew what was going on before March, before the deadline, so we stepped up our efforts to try to get grant money the best we could.”

Donah said the only reason the project moved forward was the last-minute $500,000 state grant.

“We’re under the same guidelines that we were from the beginning of the feasibility study,” Donah said. “We’ve tried to reduce costs; we have reduced costs. The bids went out in August, and all of the contractors stood by the bids. We’re trying to stick by those contracts.”

Donah then pointed out that he couldn’t get answers and couldn’t redesign the building himself.

“I got so upset that I had to step away from it because I felt like the taxpayers were taking a beating, and that’s not necessarily the case right now,” Donah said. “We don’t know, but believe me, I’m still on this board, and there will be litigation if there’s a problem.”

Foran wasn’t at the meeting, so the Enterprise reached him by phone Thursday. He said he was surprised to learn Donah had stepped away from the project.

“I haven’t talked to Rick about it, so I don’t know why he chose to step away from it,” Foran said. “We’ve never talked about it.”

Foran said he was aware of residents’ concerns regarding the project, but he wouldn’t give specifics.

“I don’t mean to be disrespectful or rude in any way, but I’m not going to participate in a public debate,” Foran said. “I’ve asked a lot of people who have issues with the process that has happened, I’ve asked them if they’d like to sit with me one on one, or if they send a letter to me through the village, I’d be happy to respond. I’m not going to have a witch-hunt.”

Foran said no one has approached him in either of those ways he suggested. He noted that the project was laid out in public meetings several times before taxpayers approved it.

Foran emphasized that regulations regarding the essential building designation are outlined in Chapter 16 of the New York state building code and must be followed.

“There are fire stations being built that do not meet these requirements, but they are going to have insurance issues moving forward because the buildings are not going to be able to be insured,” Foran said.

Foran said the project is underway and within its budget, and the materials to begin building have been ordered. He explained that the redesign was necessary to meet essential building guidelines.

“The redesigning process was based on the seismic conditions of the area,” Foran said. “The steel in the design was not the wrong kind of steel, but the configuration of the reinforcing had to be modified. At this point, any cost implication has not been finalized.”