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There’s a lot at stake next Tuesday for the leaders of New Castle Fire District No. 1.
The Board of Fire Commissioners is turning to the district’s voters, asking that they authorize borrowing of up to $15.2 million to expand and modernize Chappaqua’s King Street firehouse. A 13,000-square-foot addition is planned with three new bays that are large enough to fit modern fire trucks.
There would also be space to efficiently decontaminate firefighters’ gear from carcinogens and other toxins when they return from a blaze and racks to properly store equipment, turnout gear and hoses.
District officials contend that the current facility, which originally opened in 1954 and expanded to its current 17,000-square-foot footprint in 1979, is inadequate to house apparatus such as a 100-foot ladder truck, which is needed if firefighters can’t get the vehicle as close to a structure as they would like, and a tanker. There are areas within the district where there are no fire hydrants and a tanker is needed, said Brian Murphy, chairman of the Board of Fire Commissioners.
Having as little as two feet between one truck and a wall or not having enough space to open a passenger side door on one truck and the driver’s side door on another simultaneously while rushing out to a call impedes the personnel, commissioners have said.
For the board, it’s all about complying with recommended standards from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and exercising the greatest safety measures to protect the 60 or so volunteers who serve the community.
“The safety part of it is one of the big issues, ADA compliance is a big issue, going by the guidelines of OSHA, following every guideline,” Murphy said. “That’s what we’re trying to do here, trying to bring the building to a place where they should be.”
If approved, construction would start as soon as November and last one to two years. The average New Castle residential property owner would pay $282 a year for the duration of the 30-year bond, although the exact figure would fluctuate based on each property’s valuation. For Mount Pleasant residents in the district, the cost would be $225 annually.
Next week’s vote comes six-and-a-half years after the October 2016 two-proposition $15.3 million referendum failed resoundingly. That would have not only expanded the firehouse, but included items such as a second floor, including a dormitory-style area for firefighters to stay in the event of an emergency and a kitchen. The second proposition in 2016 also would have provided about $2.7 million for the district to acquire the old Chappaqua Animal Hospital land, which the district accomplished the following year.
According to figures released by the fire district, since that vote construction costs have escalated more than 30 percent, and have at least doubled since space needs were first studied by the district in 2003.
In addition to the expansion, Commissioner Dwight Smith said next week’s referendum would pay for a second floor but the district would wait to build it out with the extra features. An elevator will be installed with money from next week’s vote for what the district hopes is the eventual build-out of the new wing.
Smith said the feature of the new bays accommodating trucks to drive in through the back and out the front also enhances safety. Instead of backing into the bays, as firefighters must do today, the volunteers would no longer have to hold up traffic and sometimes contend with impatient drivers. Also, a drive-through bay is needed to accommodate a 100-foot ladder.
“As trucks get bigger, as trucks get heavier, taller and taller, it’s really going to be in the long run that we have a longer bay,” Smith said on Apr. 8 during the first in a series of public information sessions the commissioners have been holding at the Chappaqua Library.
To guard against a repeat of the 2016 defeat, commissioners first eliminated the second-floor buildout, which saves about $1.2 million, and the renovation and asbestos removal from the existing structure, a reduction of more than $3.3 million.
They also scheduled six public information sessions and will hold voting for nine hours on Apr. 25. They also formed a Community Liaison Committee to help get the word out.
However, one of the committee’s members who attended the first information session, Lynne Lambert, said while the firefighters need an improved facility, the district failed to explore all alternatives and is going with a largely similar project that was defeated in 2016.
Lambert said commissioners should have completed a Master Plan that looked at possibly building a new firehouse or consider a merger with the Millwood Fire District.
“We were told right from the get-go that we weren’t to have any input whatsoever on this referendum, that we were really to listen and get out there and push for it,” Lambert said. “Now that has left a lot of questions unanswered for some of us.”
Smith said there would be little gained by going to the expense of building a brand-new firehouse. Storage space is also needed.
“The (current) building, if we move to remediate it, in my opinion, will still give us utility,” he said. “It will still be a building we would use for whatever we choose to do.”
If the bond is approved, Smith said commissioners plan to sell the Senter Street firehouse, which is used for storage and to house the district’s antique vehicles, and use the proceeds from the sale and money from its reserve fund to build out the second floor in the new wing.
Voting will take place for those in the fire district from 12 to 9 p.m. at the firehouse at 491 King St. in Chappaqua. Absentee ballots are not being used. For more information about the vote, including the cost for each parcel in the district, visit www.ncfd1.org.
Martin has more than 30 years experience covering local news in Westchester and Putnam counties, including a frequent focus on zoning and planning issues. He has been editor-in-chief of The Examiner since its inception in 2007. Read more from Martin’s editor-author bio here. Read Martin’s archived work here: https://www.theexaminernews.com/author/martin-wilbur2007/