Marino Presents Potential New Fire Station Options

By Adam Swift

In the coming weeks, town officials will be looking for input from residents on potential sites for a new fire station.

At Tuesday night’s town council meeting, Town Manager Tony Marino gave a preliminary presentation on three potential sites for a new fire station. At least one town councilor said he would like to see a fourth location added to the mix as the town looks for input prior to a potential debt exclusion vote for the project.

The three sites presented by Marino were the Wadsworth building on Winthrop Street, the old middle school site, and the Little League A field near Miller Field.

Last fall, voters defeated a debt exclusion vote for an approximately $40 million fire station project at the Wadsworth building site. Both the town’s existing firehouses are over a century old.

During the presentation, Marino noted that there were challenges associated with each of the locations being proposed, and that the plan is to issue a survey to residents to get their feedback on proposals.

“Since the negative vote on the November ballot, we have continued to look at a few different proposals, a few different sites, including the site that we had discussed previously,” said Council President Jim Letterie.

He said the town went back to architect Kaestle Boos and they have provided the town with additional information on potential sites.

“Based on the vote, there was a lot of talk about the Winthrop Street site, and people preferring the middle school site,” said Marino.

In addition, the town manager said there was a lot of talk about some of the low-lying areas in town, such as the little league field as potential sites.

While the architect looked at the three sites, Marino said the little league field may not be realistic because of the flood zone issues.

“It’s really not an option, but we went through the exercise because they already had a lot of the data,” said Marino.

The total construction cost for the Winthrop Street site at the Wadsworth building would be just under $40 million, including $6 million in eminent domain costs to take the two properties on the site, and $500,000 in relocation costs for the businesses in the building.

“Obviously, this is a higher elevation, certainly the best option if you want to keep it out of the flood zones,” said Marino.

The benefit to putting the fire station on the middle school site would be that the town would be able to demolish the auditorium and the old middle school, and still be able to keep up the old gym building for now.

“We wouldn’t have to relocate our park and rec program, that would be able to stay in place along with the rink,” said Marino.

Marino noted that the portion of the property proposed for the fire station is also out of the flood zone.

“Potentially, if you ever wanted to put a police station there and make it a public safety building, that’s what the future development could be, but right now we are proposing just the fire station,” said Marino.

The total estimated construction cost at the middle school site would be just over $40 million.

The projected cost of the little league field site, at about $36.5 million, would be a little lower than at the other sites, Marino said.

“The only issue here is that since it was originally proposed, the floodwaters and where we flood, the elevations are higher, so we would have to build this fire station, to be in acceptance with the building codes, in an area that is prone to five to 10 feet of flooding, you are basically building it on an island,” said Marino. “That’s anywhere in that area, whether it is Expert Auto or here.”

If there was a major storm or flooding, Marino said all apparatus would have to be moved out and there wouldn’t be access to the building.

“Due to the risk of the high flooding and the sea level rise in all these low-lying areas, I don’t think it would be a suitable spot,” said Marino. “But we wanted to do the exercise because people had asked, but even since they proposed (the site) back in 2021, it has gotten even worse with the elevation.”

Marino said the town is now looking at putting out survey questions to see what kind of plan the community would back.

“They didn’t want to back Wadsworth the first time, but we also had unanswered questions about what it would cost at the middle school and what it would look like at the middle school,” said Marino. “We’ve answered some of those now, so we would like to put it out to a survey. Obviously, nothing official, but put out some survey questions, show the plans, show what we are proposing, show the estimated costs and see what the community would get behind if we were to go for a debt exclusion vote at an upcoming election.”

Precinct 5 Councilor Joseph Aiello said he worries about flooding issues being the sole criteria for selecting a site.

“The reality is, if a firetruck is going to have difficulty getting through a flooded area, that means that entire part of the community is essentially condemned,” he said.

Aiello said the town shouldn’t be as worried about the feasibility of an individual site and its height and pitch to accommodate a fire station, since the town still has to address those issues.

“Just be careful about the rubric of it’s too close to flooding, because we have to fix that, otherwise we lose the town,” said Aiello.

Precinct 1 Councilor Patrick Costigan said he is completely behind the need for a new fire station, but said it has been the potential location that has been the thorn in the side of the council.

Costigan said he has gotten calls from people who do not want to see the Wadsworth Building go away to make room for a new station, and he said the town should develop the middle school site as a potential revenue generator or as the site as a community center.

“As far as the little league field, looking at the 2050 and the 2100 plans as far as flooding, that field is under water, I don’t think that is a great place, as well,” said Costigan. “However, I was glad to hear Town Manager Marino say nothing is off the table for locations, this is not etched in stone. I have a significant interest in the (town) basketball courts, and I know that hasn’t really brought itself to the surface here.”

Building on the town-owned courts would not require the town to pay anything to acquire the site.

“The back of that facility is the school, we could easily fit that building you are referring to in that location,” said Costigan.

If the town does build on the little league field or court sites, Marino noted those sports areas would have to be replicated at another location in the town.

Fire Chief Scott Wiley said the need for a new fire station has only intensified over the past year.

“We’ve been talking about this for 50 or 60 years,” said Wiley. “I’m not going to say there was official exit polling that was done, but in talking to hundreds of people after the election, the consensus opinion is that we need a new station, people are behind it.”

Marino said there is a situation going on at the Pauline Street station where a concrete floor was poured over a wood floor about 50 years ago.

“We hold 90,000 pounds on that floor with two pumpers that were designed for a horse and buggy for the most part,” said Marino. “Now, they did a great job, it lasted 50 years, I don’t think they ever thought that there wouldn’t be a new station by now.”

But Marino said the wooden floor under the poured concrete is corroded now, and with the years of washing vehicles and wear and tear on the concrete floor, the rebar is gone on the current slab.

“We are in a situation now where we have to do some major structural repairs underneath, and/or, a potential idea that was floated … we could actually fill the void underneath, whether it’s epoxy fill or flowable fill, which is concrete mixed with sand, and pour a concrete slab over it,” said Marino. “Those are options we are looking at, we have a structural engineer and we are taking a peek to see what the best option is. That has got to be dealt with, even if it is a different use down the road, we still have to address this issue.”

Several councilors also said they would like to see more details about the proposed options before it goes out to a survey, noting that it would be devastating for the fire department and the town if a ballot question for a new station failed for a second time in two years.

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