Vote eliminates one of Beacon department’s best options, and maybe two
By Jeff Simms
The Beacon City Board of Education on Nov. 7 nixed the idea of selling land on the campus of Sargent Elementary School for the construction of a consolidated Beacon fire station, which may send the fire department back to the drawing board.
Fire officials had identified two sites — the first, a wooded area to the west of the access road leading to Sargent and, second, a lot carved out of the Elks Lodge property across Route 9D from the school — as locations for a new station. The board’s decision rules out the Sargent site and may prevent use of the Elks location, as well.
The fire department asked the district to sell approximately 1.75 acres at Sargent for the station. As an alternative, it asked for permission to build a parking lot along the Sargent access road to serve a station on the smaller Elks site.
Board members, however, declined both proposals, saying they weren’t comfortable with a fire station located so close to the school.
“It’s not what I would call a real compatible use with the school district,” said board member Craig Wolf. “You have kids walking to school, you’ve got them riding bikes. It gets a little tight at times.”
The idea of building a station to replace the city’s three aging structures has been around for some time, but a $250,000 Dutchess County grant has the clock ticking for city officials to decide where it will be located.
“We can’t move forward with any hard design until we know what site we’re designing for,” Lt. Tim Dexter told the board. While the city and department considered 17 sites, he said Sargent and the Elks Lodge ranked highest for a number of reasons, including their location, which would allow the department to respond quickly to almost anywhere in Beacon.
The city had been in discussions concurrently with the school system and the Elks. On Nov. 10, City Administrator Anthony Ruggiero said the fire station committee will now reevaluate all sites before making its next move. The committee will update the City Council on its options at the council’s Nov. 14 workshop.
At the Nov. 7 meeting, school board members seemed unconvinced that a 377-student elementary school and fire station could safely coexist. They also expressed concern that there wasn’t time to vet the proposal with the Sargent community.
“Sargent in particular needs to have full notice of this so we don’t have them coming back to us and saying, ‘Why didn’t you tell us about this?’ ” Wolf said.
Some board members did favor the proposal. Bill Zopf said he doesn’t anticipate the district developing the land, and he believes the fire department would take the necessary measures to ensure safety. Antony Tseng and Anthony White, the board president, also said they would be willing to discuss the proposal further.
The area around any fire station is typically safest because the engines operate there at slow speeds, Chief Gary Van Voorhis told the board, adding that the department has worked with schools near its other stations without incident.
There was no official vote on either land sale proposal, but an informal poll during the meeting found six of nine members against the Sargent plan and five of nine against the parking lot.
“I would need to know that there’s enough opportunities for real input and a potential to stop it if there’s a level of discomfort from the public,” board member Kristan Flynn said. “There are a lot of kids who walk unsupervised near Sargent. I see too great a downside.”