HALFMOON and WATERFORD — The Halfmoon-Waterford Fire District has established a committee to come up with a less costly option for a new fire station, months after a more-than-$13 million project was voted down by residents.
The group’s job is to “start the project back at square one,” district Commissioner John D’Alessandro said, and to work with an architect and real estate agent to design a new firehouse or seek out open property in Halfmoon or Waterford where a firehouse could be built.
The committee will also analyze public comments about the previously proposed project, many of which suggested a desire for a scaled-down plan or a different layout.
The committee includes district Chief Rich Gaudette, Deputy Chief Jim Mulligan, Assistant Chief Tony Bonventre, district Safety Officer Chuck Kuhns, Captain Dennis Weaver and Commissioner Peter Semenza, according D’Alessandro, who is also on the committee.
“We’re re-examining everything, from potential site location to design,” D’Alessandro said. “We’ve got to try to find that balance between building a station that serves us operationally and keeping costs down.”
Residents of the fire district rejected a plan for a new station in November. That project called for a 25,000-square-foot firehouse to replace a station at 315 Middletown Road in Halfmoon that was built in 1961. The fire district was seeking a bond of $12,331,563 for the project.
The firehouse itself would have cost $9.3 million to build. Site preparation work, including drainage and leveling, was estimated at $2.5 million, and $1,575,000 would have paid for artist renderings and architectural planning for the project.
The proposal was voted down by 54-vote margin: 366-312.
Finding space in Halfmoon for a firehouse, D’Alessandro said, is easier said than done. The district serves around 20,000 people over 14 square miles between the two towns and responds to an average of 800 calls per year.
The current location is optimal, from a response standpoint, he said. Moving too far into either Halfmoon or Waterford could negatively affect response times, but making a new firehouse work on the current site would involve costly site work, which voters were not on board with last time, he said.
The district is working with a commercial Realtor to locate available land for a new station.
D’Alessandro would not comment on specific options the district is exploring, but he said finding reasonably priced property has been difficult.
If the new proposal calls for the firehouse to stay on the current site, the building would most likely have to be reoriented, and aspects of the original plan would most likely be eliminated, though D’Alessandro would not say what specifically would change.
“If we stay on that site, there’s no getting away from it. I guess the goal is, if we do stay here, how do we minimize that [price]?” he said.
The current firehouse has three bays for trucks on one side and two bays on the other side, with a common room and living area between them. That layout forces firefighters to walk through living areas, often while wearing contaminated firefighting gear, when they return from emergency calls.
Modern fire stations usually have separate areas for the storage and cleaning of contaminated gear.
The current fire station also has structural deficiencies — cracks in walls, asbestos and damage to wooden frames from termites, D’Alessandro said. The truck bays are also not large enough for both the trucks and firefighters moving around them.
The main goal of the original proposal, and the future solution, D’Alessandro said, is to create a firehouse that will be long-term — designed to last 75 years.
The tentative goal is to unveil new plans in the spring and hold public meetings prior to another referendum. D’Alessandro said it will be crucial to demonstrate to residents that an upgraded firehouse is a worthwhile, long-term investment.
“We took every comment we heard at the public meeting very seriously,” he said. “I have no doubt that when we’re ready to go public, it’s going to be a different station. It’s not our fire department; it’s the citizens’ fire department.”
Halfmoon Supervisor Kevin Tollisen and Waterford Supervisor John Lawler did not respond to requests for comment on the project Wednesday and Thursday.
Gaudette and other representatives from the Fire District Board of Directors also did not respond to phone calls or emails seeking comment on the project.