The Westhampton Beach Fire District has decided to move forward with a $14.6 million plan to raze the Sunset Avenue firehouse and build a new one in its stead that will better fit the department’s needs for the next 50 years—if the taxpayers approve it in a spring referendum.
At a fire district meeting on Tuesday evening—attended by only one public official, Village Trustee Patricia DiBenedetto, and eight members of the fire department—representatives from Sandpebble Builders, the Southampton company serving as project manager, and H2M, an architectural and engineering firm based in Melville that has been hired as project consultant, outlined three potential plans ranging from $13.6 million to $15 million that the district had considered to either renovate or replace the current 59-year-old building. In the end, they announced that the complete rebuild was the most sensible option for the district, and after several more public hearings this winter, will put the proposition before the voters this spring.
“This is a community effort for a community building that will serve a vital community service,” Bob Viola of Sandpebble Builders said at the meeting. “A building like this is like insurance. You don’t necessarily want to pay the insurance, but when you need it, you are happy you have it.”
If approved in the spring, the fire department will be temporarily housed at a currently undisclosed location while the two-story, 12,300-square-foot building is demolished and a new, 28,257-square-foot building is constructed.
To accommodate the new building, which would be paid off via bonds over the span of 20 years, the former 1,721-square-foot police headquarters building next to the firehouse would also be demolished. In total, it is expected that it would take no more then 18 months for construction of the state-of-the-art building to be completed and district officials would hope to be able to move into the new building in 2015.
According to district officials, a taxpayer whose home is assessed at $600,000 could expect an estimated $85 dollars per year increase to district taxes as a result of the bonding, an increase of 23 cents per day.
“We think the total tax is a reasonable number,” fire commissioner Darryl Schunk said at the meeting. “It does not take us beyond what other districts are paying now.”
At the meeting on Monday night, which took place at the firehouse and was intended to introduce the plan to the public, officials said a bigger building was needed because the department’s large fleet of trucks and emergency response vehicles do not all fit in the current building. Several of the district vehicles, which include three standard size fire trucks, one tower ladder, a heavy rescue truck, a tanker, a brush truck, a utility truck, two vans, a water rescue boat and four chief vehicles, must be stored at a Seabreeze Avenue storage building to avoid damage. Even with both sites, in most cases there is a mere inches between department vehicles, posing a serious safety hazard to all 110 volunteer first responders for the department.
Other safety issues with the current firehouse that concern fire district personnel include the lack of clearance between trucks, not enough storage and the lack of a system that pumps vehicle exhaust from the firehouse. Also, the current building does not have a designated area for volunteers to get dressed when responding to an alarm, has slanted floors that are damaging some of the trucks and there is no training area for first responders. The firehouse also lacks sufficient parking during alarms.
District officials are now planning to once again make the rounds to several local citizens groups, including the Citizens Advisory Committee-West and the Kiwanis Club to gauge local opinion. They also intend to hold another public forum in the next few months, but a specific date has not yet been set.
“No portion of this building is what the district wants,” Mr. Viola said. “These are the needs that have to happen in order for this building to serve the community going forward.”