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).
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.
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 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