New Castle Fire District Retains Consultant in Advance of Possible Bond

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New Castle Fire House Expansion Renderings
New Castle fire commissioners approved hiring a consultant to help it communicate the need for a possible referendum to expand the King Street firehouse Picture above is a rendering from last year of the proposed expansion at that time

Commissioners in New Castle Fire District No. 1 last week voted to retain a consultant to assist in communicating with residents about the need for an expanded firehouse as district officials eye a potential December referendum.

By a 4-1 margin, the Board of Commissioners approved spending $35,250 to hire Wise Oak Strategies of Bedford, the same outfit that helped the Bedford Village Fire District comfortably pass a referendum in January 2020 to build a new $14.8 million firehouse after a larger proposal had been defeated.

Board Chairman Terence Hoey said given the job that Wise Oak did to help get the Bedford firehouse vote through, it seems like a wise investment.

“We will increase our chances of answering all the questions of the community, and let’s just say presenting a good case for moving forward with this project,” Hoey said.

Commissioner Dwight Smith said before the vote that the firm has experience in relaying information to the public on the need to improve fire department facilities and was something the board should pursue. Furthermore, the district has the right to back out within 30 days, according to the agreement, if commissioners have a change of heart, he said.

The dissenting vote came from Commissioner Chris Weddle, who questioned why the board didn’t consider contacting other firms that could provide this type of service. Weddle mentioned that there is the possibility that the state comptroller’s office could question the board why it would spend $35,000 on professional services without having contacted other consultants.

However, Hoey said given Wise Oak’s track record in Bedford and the need for the commissioners to act swiftly to hold a vote before the end of the year to expand the King Street firehouse is essential. The board also discussed the matter at a recent work session, he said.

Hoey added that he felt it was unnecessary to search for another firm at this time.

“It’s a surprise to me that now we’re going to look for another professional services company after the one that was engaged literally assisted the Board of Fire Commissioners in Bedford Hills to bring home that building project, and looking at how they did it, they had a strategy, they had plans, they opened up communication throughout the town, they were very, very successful,” Hoey said.

The board agreed to approve the agreement with Wise Oak Strategies, although Commissioner Ed Frank said he would contact another consultant that had been provided to him by project architect Bob Mitchell. In the event that consultant or firm would be a better fit, the 30-day opt-out period in the agreement would allow the board flexibility, he said.

Part of the pre-vote strategy, which had been raised early this year, was to create a Community Liaison Committee. The committee would include district residents who hold a variety of opinions on what should be done with the firehouse to help hash out issues related to a bond.

Last fall, the board met with Mitchell to review preliminary designs. At that time, it was mentioned that a March 2020 estimate for the project was just over $12 million. No other cost estimates have been mentioned publicly since last October.

Last year, the expansion called for a two-story addition. In previous discussions, health and safety issues were slated to be addressed that were lacking in the current facility, including the ability to clean equipment after firefighters return from a blaze to quickly eliminate carcinogens, having uncluttered access to the trucks and equipment that must be stored in safe and logical spaces.

The district’s 2016 firehouse expansion referendum was defeated by a wide margin, but another proposition to acquire the neighboring parcel that had once been owned by Chappaqua Animal Hospital was approved by voters about a year later.

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