BALLSTON – The Burnt Hills Fire Department held a public forum Tuesday to update community members in advance of a second public referendum on the proposal to build a new firehouse.
The fire department formed a building committee made up of Fire Commissioners, department members and residents in the spring of 2016 to study the future building needs of the Burnt Hills Fire District. Hueber-Breuer Construction Co. was retained to oversee the process.
The study concluded that Station 2 on Charlton road should be replaced, and a new station should be constructed on property donated to the fire district on Charlton Road across from Ballston Town Hall.
Plans call for a 7,550-square foot station constructed using maintenance free fractured blocks, with fourteen-foot-wide overhead doors.
The building will feature three vehicle bays, two driveways separating emergency traffic from non-emergency traffic, parking behind the building and separation of emergency equipment from office space to contain carcinogens at an estimated budget of $2.6 million.
A public referendum to bond up to $2.6 million for the proposed station was approved by voters in March by a vote of 166 to 36. However, when the project was put out to bid, proposals came back more than $400,000 over the approved budget.
The bids would put the cost of the project at approximately $290 per square foot. Hueber-Breuer Project Manager Sean Foran said on Tuesday that the bids were surprising, noting that Rotterdam Fire District No. 7 recently constructed a $3.04 million station at a cost of $225 per square foot.
The project was put out to bid a second time in October with construction planned for spring in case the first round of bids had been impacted by concern that builders would need to race against the coming winter. Again, the bids that came back in November were more than $400,000 over budget.
“I can’t tell you why you’re that much higher. We’ve done it twice in three months and we’ve come up with the same result every time and I struggle to believe the market is that much different a half hour down the road,” Foran said. “I don’t have a good answer for why we’re seeing the pricing that we’re seeing.”
After reviewing the situation, the fire department decided to increase the bond amount for the proposed station to $3.2 million and to hold a second public referendum in January.
Companies that placed bids on the project in November are required to hold their bids for 45 days, Foran contacted each of the bidding companies and asked them to hold their bids for an additional 30 days to ensure that the project can move forward if approved by referendum.
If the $3.2 million bond is approved by voters, a property owner in the district with an assessed property value of $150,000 would pay $48 annually in taxes. Under the $2.6 million bond proposal a property with an assessed value of $150,000 would be taxed $39 annually.
Foran explained to residents that the initial design for the station could not be altered to reduce the bond amount.
“There is no place to cut this, if we cut this in any way shape or form, not only will it not serve you well the day you open it, it definitely won’t serve you well 20 years from now,” Foran said.
The fire district spans approximately 15 square miles and Foran noted that the fire district has seen continued growth to the north. The feasibility study conducted by the building committee and Hueber-Breuer concluded that a larger station would be needed to serve the growing community and the fire department would probably be required to purchase a third fire truck for the station at some point.
Additionally, Foran pointed out that Fire Station 2 is too small to be considered safe for department members. Best practice design standards for fire stations call for a perimeter around trucks parked in fire stations of approximately 6 to 7 feet between trucks and the building interior.
“Unfortunately, people are getting hurt in their own stations,” Foran said. “I’m not an architect but I know people who know fire stations, they’re designing these stations to eliminate those mishaps. The trucks are only getting bigger and human error is going to happen no matter what.”
Fire department member Carl Thurnau asked if the location for the proposed station would be a mistake given the potential that continued development might necessitate construction of a third station in the future.
Foran answered that most of the department’s calls are to automotive accidents. While an additional building could be needed in 30 to 40 years, it is more likely that a medical station would be needed over a fire station.
Following the public forum, Fire Commissioner Chairman Les Bonesteel shared his support for the project over which the commissioners have final approval.
Bonesteel said he supported the project as it will allow the fire department to continue serving the growing community due to the location of the new station and the ability of the facility to house additional equipment if needed. Primarily, he said he supports the project due to safety concerns at Station 2.
“As Sean has had said before, it’s not if it will happen, it’s when will it happen. That’s the main reason. The building is so tight,” Bonesteel said. “We can barely put trucks in there. We have a policy right now that before personnel put their gear on the fire trucks have to come out.”
Fire district resident Larry Rabideau said that he would support the decision of the fire department to move forward with the new station, as he had in the previous referendum.
Still, Rabideau questioned whether the district should instead implement a station designed for responding to car accidents given that accidents comprise most calls for the fire department.
Rabideau looked favorably at the annual cost of the new station for district residents that is low compared to neighboring communities, the scope of the proposed station based on need and the need to replace Station 2.
“It’s got to be done,” Rabideau said. “Like they said, there isn’t room to put two trucks in there. There isn’t room in front. There isn’t room in back. There isn’t room in between. You probably wouldn’t see anything like this anywhere else.”
The fire department will conduct the bond referendum on the $3.2 million fire station from noon to 9 p.m. on Jan. 9 at Station 1.
Registered voters who own primary residences in the fire district or reside full time in a rental or lease property in the district are eligible to vote. There are approximately 3,000 voters eligible to participate in the bond referendum.
If the bond referendum is approved by voters, construction on the new fire station is expected to commence in May and should be completed by December.