Firehouse Plans Unveiled

Three stories; cost estimated at $6 million plus

By Michael Turton

Toward the end of Monday’s (Dec. 15) special meeting of the Cold Spring Village Board, leadership from the Cold Spring Fire Company (CSFC) commented that public input is needed regarding plans for a new firehouse to replace the badly aging existing structure.

Given that the cost estimate, at $6 million, is probably conservative for construction of the proposed three-story, state-of-the-art facility, it is difficult to imagine anything but robust commentary from residents.

Mayor Ralph Falloon began the discussion, commenting that the idea of a new firehouse has “been kicked down the road” for at least 12 years and, referring to the current building, asked a key question: “Are we going to keep investing money in this place?” Before CSFC Assistant Fire Chief Steve Smith described the new plans, Falloon said that ultimately the issue will have to be put to the public in the form of a referendum.

Support for Main Street location

Cold Spring’s mayor pointed out that there is public support for keeping the fire company on Main Street. “Maybe the public will be willing to pay a bit more to stay on Main — away from the park,” a reference to a previous, widely criticized proposal to locate the new firehouse in McConville Park, adjacent to Tots Park on Morris Avenue (Route 9D).

Cold Spring Fire Company Assistant Chief Steve Smith outlined plans for the proposed firehouse. CSFC President John Landolfi is seated.

Cold Spring Fire Company Assistant Chief Steve Smith outlined plans for the proposed firehouse. CSFC President John Landolfi is seated.

Smith, who also heads CSFC’s building committee, reviewed a series of drawings for the proposed building, prepared at no cost by Keith Scofield, an architect with the Poughkeepsie-based firm of Liscum McCormack VanVoorhis. Scofield used the Fishkill Fire Department’s building as the basis for the design. The concept for the firehouse features brown brick and a bell tower, reminiscent of Cold Spring’s historic character.

The plans call for the complete demolition of the existing building. A major challenge in designing and building a new firehouse is the small size of the property. “It’s tight,” Smith said, describing how Scofield summed up the available space. “It’s a really hard site,” Smith continued. “Almost like a New York City site.”

Modern firehouse design

Scofield’s design “gave us a lot more than we expected,” Smith said, adding that it incorporates facilities in keeping with those found in other firehouses in the region. Plans include a basement; first-floor truck storage, decontamination area and laundry room; second-floor ready room, exercise room, showers and computer facilities; and third-floor meeting room, kitchen and bathrooms. Smith said that the meeting room would have a capacity of 125 to 130 people, slightly larger than the current space.

Concept drawing of the proposed three-story Cold Spring firehouse with part of the adjacent PCNR building shown to illustrate scale

Concept drawing of the proposed three-story Cold Spring firehouse with part of the adjacent PCNR building shown to illustrate scale

Among the current building’s shortcomings mentioned at Monday’s meeting was the lack of laundry and decontamination facilities, even though they are considered a requirement. The current building also has no exercise room. Asked by Trustee Stephanie Hawkins if that facility is required, Smith said that firefighters are supposed to stay in shape but that it’s difficult to force volunteers to do so.

He pointed out that in New York City, firefighters have to “work off the pounds” when their weight gets above acceptable levels. Falloon said fitness rooms are common at most firehouses now, explaining that more than 40 percent of fatalities among firefighters are health related — not caused by fire. Smith said that “pretty much everything” included in the design is required.

The numbers

The architect estimated construction costs at $320 per square foot. The proposed building would total 19,458 square feet compared with the current structure, which is slightly more than 4,800 square feet.

Smith said that the estimate of just over $6 million probably doesn’t represent the full cost. Other expenditures would include offsite storage of equipment during construction, a construction trailer and demolition of the existing building.

Falloon said that with only 894 taxed properties in Cold Spring, a $6 million bond spread over 20 years would cost taxpayers an additional $500 per year. Over 30 years the annual cost would be reduced to $400.

Trustee Mike Bowman asked about savings should a new firehouse be built on a flat, open site such as adjacent to Tots Park. Smith estimated the cost would drop to between $3.5 and $4 million, in part because on a larger lot the structure could be built on one floor.

An open site would also permit the facility to be built in phases, reducing the initial cost. A multi-story building such as the one now proposed for Main Street could not be built in phases. Citing savings in the millions of dollars, Bowman suggested that, when hired, the new village attorney should again look into the legalities of building the firehouse at McConville Park.

Resident Frank Haggerty asked if a Nelsonville location might be considered since it has more open area. Falloon said that it could be possible to form a new fire district consisting of Cold Spring, Nelsonville and part of Philipstown. In that scenario, the cost of the facility to Cold Spring would be reduced, since it would have only 62 percent of the assessed property value in the district.

“But that is a whole other can of worms,” Falloon said. CSFC currently provides fire protection for Nelsonville and a portion of Philipstown and is reimbursed for the service.

Strong rationale, feedback needed

Hawkins urged the fire company to provide a strong rationale for the proposed facilities. “We [the Village Board] and the community need to hear the justification for things that are not legally required so we can make it happen,” she said.

CSFC President John Landolfi explained that the architect was told to put everything into the plans that normally go into today’s firehouses. “We want to move forward. We want to hear from the community,” he said. “If everybody thinks three stories are ridiculous …” He didn’t finish the sentence.

When Smith commented to Village Board members that “we can discuss what can be eliminated — it’s your building,” Falloon responded, “It’s our building … we need to do as much of the work together as we can.”

CSFC plans to hold an open house to showcase the plans and seek public comment.

“Cooperation” may have to be the watchword in 2015 and beyond, not to mention “tolerance.” Real progress toward a new, multimillion-dollar firehouse will be a major financial challenge. And further down the road, its construction can’t help but disrupt village life to some extent.

But the firehouse is not the only major project on the horizon. Substantial initiatives including repair of the village dams, Main Street reconstruction, upgrades to wastewater treatment facilities and the removal of coal tar at the Cold Spring Boat Club will no doubt put those watchwords to the test.

Photos by M. Turton

18 thoughts on “Firehouse Plans Unveiled

  1. Nothing like keeping up with the Firehouse Jones’ of Mahopac, Lake Carmel, Carmel — but can the taxpayers?

  2. I am making the below comments as an individual, and not in my capacity as the President of the Friends of McConville Park.

    I agree that our fire company is in need of a new firehouse, but what happened to the proposal of an estimated $2.5 million firehouse presented in 2012?

    Why was Mr. Haggerty’s question of whether or not Cold Spring and Nelsonville could consolidate and build a new firehouse in Nelsonville, which will greatly reduce the cost of this project, not given more consideration?

    It would be irresponsible not to explore every possibility before we ask taxpayers to either pay for a $6 million or more firehouse or destroy the park, playground and the September 11th memorial.

  3. Commenting solely as a resident of the Village of Cold Spring, but also as one of the folks who prepared a study of all area sites that might be suitable for a firehouse, as part of the Government, Infrastructure & Public Services (GIPS) working group of the Special Board in the spring of 2008, I think it is commendable that the Cold Spring Fire Company continues its efforts to replace the inadequate building on Main Street. Without commenting on some of the proposed features — which may or may not be essential — I do think that going to three stories makes the best long-term use of a small parcel of land on Main Street. With the loss of the VFW Building on Kemble, the Village could use the spacious meeting room envisioned for the third floor.

    I hope that consideration of such a building will lead to a careful reappraisal of alternative sources of revenue for the Village, which are proposed in the 2012 Comprehensive Plan but largely ignored. Foremost among these is metered parking, which is projected to net about $180,000 per year. Using a rule of thumb that annual new revenue will support new debt 20 times that revenue, metered parking would cover — conservatively — $3.6 million of the cost of the firehouse, without boosting taxes or damaging the Village’s credit rating.

    Other sites in the area should also be considered, most especially the Cedar Street American Legion parcel– which ranks high in any close review of realistic options, though a portion of the site is in Nelsonville. I suggest that the Fire Company seek partnerships with other potential users, not just to spread the financial burden, but also to achieve economies of consolidation.

    • So Village residents like myself are supposed to believe that metered parking would be able to pay $3.5 million toward a new firehouse? Your $180,000 number equals $500 per day net profit from meters. Not sure who came up with those numbers but I’m sure if they used similar math to calculate the cost of this proposed firehouse / clubhouse it would surely be north of $20 million. Too bad this state-of-the-art third-floor meeting room hasn’t been built yet, where in the world can we possibly hold a meeting on this important topic? I guess we can all huddle around a campfire and have it at the gazebo.

      • Actually, there was a good deal more to my calculation of the estimated $180,000 net revenue from parking meters than you seem to believe. The calculation (I shared my spreadsheet with the Village, and welcome anyone to study it) assumes the metering of all spaces on Main street and Depot Square, as well as the Municipal Parking lot off Fair Street. Using muni-meters, which can handle multiple spaces, 13 meters would be deployed (my recollection is the cost in 2008 would have been about $120,000, which would be spread out over 10 years in a leasing program). These are low maintenance, solar powered meters. I and my colleagues in the 2008 parking study group counted spaces and occupancy over six different time periods, from which I set conservative estimated occupancy ratios for different times of day, and further adjusted for different seasons of the year. The calculation takes into consideration additional enforcement expense, and assumes meters would only be in force from 9 AM to 6 PM. I assumed weekend rates typical of other destination communities, like Cold Spring ($1.00/hour). (weekday rates would be much lower) I compared the $180,000 computed value to a rule of thumb net revenue of $1,500 per metered space per year, which would net $250,000 annually (I chose the lower estimate). Recent actual net parking meter revenues in Poughkeepsie are right in line with my conservative estimates, although Poughkeepsie’s original projections were too optimistic and some expressed disappointment at the lower returns. I’d say my estimate is pretty solid… and worthy of careful consideration, if we ever want to see that firehouse built without crushing increases in property taxes.

  4. We’ve been down this road before in Put Valley where our local fire department has spent close to $1 million of taxpayer money just in planning their new Taj Mahal that they want to build. Like Cold Spring, there’s really no need for another building in our town as we already have two firehouses plus a substantial Ambulance Corps. building on the same site where they want to build a new building that will top what Mahopac did over on Route 6. In fact, our guys have been quoted as saying that Mahopac’s firehouse is now too small for Putnam Valley given all the extras that they want to have!

    As far as Cold Spring, I only know what I see from the vantage point of my shop on Main Street — that there are very few fires, that there are two other fire stations nearby and that a new building of the size and scale of what the firemen and women want would cause a huge disruption for the Village, not to mention possibly bankrupting the taxpayers who are already being double taxed for a police department that they don’t need.

    No politician wants to get on the wrong side of the emergency services volunteers, no matter what the situation may be. The residents of Cold Spring are all up in arms complaining about “size and scale” of just about every building that’s proposed, including home additions, but I don’t hear a peep out of anyone when it comes to the firehouse monstrosity. Oh well, if they can afford to pay for it, it’s their money.

    By the way, no mention was made of the federal assistance that’s available for construction of this boondoggle. Since they either don’t know or care that there’s money available, I will be glad to provide a link to the Assistance for Firefighters Grant Program.

    • What other firehouses are in the area that you speak of? Nelsonville? Currently being used as a PCSO substation and far too small for the operations of CSFD. North Highlands? The area they cover is much larger than the few miles of Route 9 you may travel and is fairly central to their district and certainly not close enough to the Village to allow for adequate daily protection. Or do you speak of the tiny old Garrison fire house on Lower Station Road? Maybe the new Garrison fire house out by 403, which is again too far to provide adequate protection for our Village?

      Our fire department is out and about more often than I’m sure you see, as you are only in the Village during business hours. Though I am not positive, I am sure CSFD fields 200 or more calls a year, all of which are answered with more than impressive response times, thanks in part to the great location they have called home for many years. What counts isn’t what happens during the business hours of the Village but what happens during the after-hours. Please don’t downplay the importance of the safety these Volunteers provide us by saying there isn’t much activity just because you don’t see it during the six hours a day your store is open.

      Don’t forget the majority of volunteers who provide service to Cold Spring are also taxpaying residents — they wouldn’t want to see their tax bills increase either. I’m sure they have all gone through great discussion and planning to ensure that their taxes don’t increase more than necessary.

      • Toni Valentine says: “Don’t forget the majority of volunteers who provide service to Cold Spring are also taxpaying residents — they wouldn’t want to see their tax bills increase either. I’m sure they have all gone through great discussion and planning to ensure that their taxes don’t increase more than necessary.”

        Do you know for a fact that there has been a complete financial cost/benefit analysis that’s been done and if so, when will that be presented to the taxpayers?

  5. No, Cold Spring is certainly not Putnam Valley, but it’s amazing how many similarities there are, especially when it comes to police and fire departments and duplication of municipal services.

  6. If you come over to Mahopac, architecturally the building looks the same as the one in Cold Spring. In Mahopac, they tore down a good building with the excuse that the building did not have the height for the newer fire trucks. Meantime, the fire district taxes are $1.5 million.

  7. Similarities, hmmm. Cold Spring has a Police Department because the residents want it. I speak from 10 years experience as Village trustee. Putnam Valley abolished their Police Department.

    Cold Spring has one fire company and a building that covers three jurisdictions, Cold Spring, Nelsonville and part of Philipstown. Doesn’t sound like duplication to me. Putnam Valley has a fire district where voters decide the budget.

    The real similarity between Cold Spring and Putnam Valley is your apparent dissatisfaction with both governments.

  8. Responding to Mr. Valentine: even if it is true, your claim that Cold Spring has a PD “because the residents want it” has nothing to do with the issue of duplication of services. Right now Cold Spring taxpayers are paying for their own part-time Village PD, the Sheriff’s Department which has patrols and a substation just up the street from the Village, and also coverage from the State Police as needed. In fact, it is not just duplication, it is triplication of services.

    Not too many years ago Putnam Valley was in the same boat. Wee had our own fairly useless local PD that had caused us quite a bit of expense in litigating claims of civil rights violations; we had the very competent Sheriff’s Dept. and we also had a substantial presence of State Police in certain parts of town, all of which we were paying millions in taxes to support. Our former police department was simply unnecessary, unsustainable and most of all, unaffordable. After what amounted to a Civil War, and even more lawsuits from the former Chief and members of the PD, the town board decided to abolish the department and this decision was ratified in a subsequent referendum of the citizenry.

    As far as building a new firehouse in Cold Spring — the question for the taxpayers will be how many firehouses do they want or need and what can they afford? In addition to Main Street there’s the North Highlands fire station which also serves the village and is not that far away. Are two firehouses really needed for this area? Then again, like I said previously, the residents of Cold Spring don’t seem to mind spending their money and it will be their decision, not mine.

    Also, for the record, PV voters do not get to vote on the multi-million dollar fire department budget extravaganza. Every year our town board votes on a new contract with the department in an amount that is funded by the taxpayers.

    Finally, Mr. Valentine accuses me of “being dissatisfied” with my local governments. Not only am I guilty as charged, but to put it mildly, that is an understatement. I think that if you live in Putnam County, one of the highest taxed places in the USA and you’re not “dissatisfied” with the way your elected officials are spending your money, then you’re just not paying attention.

  9. I don’t think the Cold Spring Police Department is part-time nor useless. Cold Spring would be a different place if the PD was abolished. Neither the Sheriff Department nor State Police will provide full-time protection unless we pay for it. Ask Brewster how that worked out for them.

    Fire Protection for Cold Spring, Nelsonville and Philipstown #1 district is the sole responsibility of the Cold Spring Fire Co. #1. North Highlands Fire Co. does NOT service the Village unless called by mutual aid.

  10. The Cold Spring Fire Company would like to address all comments and questions that anyone might have pertaining to the new building, and possibly relocating the fire company to a piece of property outside of the Village of Cold Spring. If you have anything that you would like addressed please send questions or comments to our email account, [email protected] . We are in process of setting up an informational meeting where all these questions and concerns will be answered to the best of our ability. Please include your name and address in your email, no anonymous inquiries will be answered.

  11. To answer John Landolfi’s question: Yes, three stories is ridiculous, as is everything about this proposal that expects 894 of us to pay for it.

    • Leaving aside the argument that the sole source of revenue to cover the cost of the firehouse project is property taxes (which is false: consider parking meters, grants, etc.), taxpayers should reject the claim that considering a three-story structure is “ridiculous.” Land along Main Street cannot be increased, but valuable square footage can be added by increasing building heights (in accordance with the built character of the business district). That added square footage, in the case of the firehouse, can potentially add revenue or offset other costs (such as having to build space for a community room elsewhere). The incremental cost of the third floor may be quite reasonable, since an elevator would already be installed for the second floor, and the expense of the basic foundation work would be spread over three floors of usable space, not two. None of us can say what the right choice would be without actual estimates, but dismissing the idea of a third floor for the firehouse — without informed consideration — would be shortsighted.