The Record-Review – The official newspaper of Bedford and Pound Ridge, New York

 

Katonah firehouse renovations planned

By JOHN ROCHE AND R.J. MARX
COURTESY OF THE HELMES GROUP LLP

A rendering of the proposed annex, which would include a three-story training tower, as viewed from the front.

 

The Katonah Fire District this week announced plans to renovate the department’s firehouse, including replacing the 54-year-old concrete floor that can no longer bear the weight of heavier apparatus and installing a new generator to keep power on during storms and other emergencies.

“As with any structure over 50 years old, there comes a time when major repairs and structural rehabilitation need to be accomplished,” said Henry Bergson, chairman of the five-member board of commissioners. “Our proposed renovations will provide our department with needed facilities, renovations and repairs that will allow us to continue providing the high level of community service and protection Katonah residents have come to expect.”

On Wednesday, Mr. Bergson outlined the details of the proposed renovations, repairs and annex alterations he said would enable the department to meet new safety, training and regulatory requirements, including some handed down from the state with unfunded mandates.

The project, with an estimated price tag of $3 million, would need the approval of a majority of the approximately 4,000 taxpayers in the district to proceed. A referendum could take place as early as this spring.

In 1958, the Katonah Fire Department constructed what was then considered to be a state-of-the-art firehouse at 65 Bedford Road, replacing a school building that had originally been moved from Old Katonah.

In 1997, due to new regulations, larger fire apparatus and more stringent training requirements, the firehouse was expanded to resolve the need for additional space. The current physical building, despite being over 50 years old, continues to serve the needs of the community and the all-volunteer fire department.

“The building itself is in very good shape, especially for its age, mostly because of careful maintenance and good stewardship throughout the past five decades and the renovations 15 years ago,” Mr. Bergson said this week. “We won’t be expanding the existing firehouse, but hope to make significant renovations that are necessary from a safety standpoint and from an operations standpoint. If the plans are approved, our annex building would also be expanded for both storage and an upgraded training facility, including a three-story tower that basically resembles a staircase.”

Mr. Bergson said that he and fellow commissioners anticipate that some residents might question why the project must be done now, given the struggling economy. 

“The fact is that these conditions are deteriorating further, and the floor of the engine room in particular must be stabilized as a matter of safety,” he said. “Even if we could wait, the worsening conditions would not only pose a safety hazard but also ultimately end up costing more. And in this economy, we’re told that materials and construction costs will be at a lower cost, which will result in more financial savings for taxpayers in our district.”

In addition to repairing and resurfacing the concrete floor in the firehouse, another key component of the renovations would be replacing the 26-year-old generator with one capable of supporting the full electrical demands of the 17,240-square-foot facility during power outages. During the severe storms that hit the Bedford area in 2011, the commissioners pointed out, the firehouse was without power for three days at a time, but still handled the high volume of emergency calls resulting from the storms.

A new generator would also make the firehouse both handicapped accessible and more suitable for residents should it be needed as an emergency evacuation shelter for the community.

“In the event of a power outage or emergency, a new generator would allow for not only lights but also keep the heat going in winter, air-conditioning going in summer and our elevator running for handicap accessibility, which are all very important if the building needs to serve as an emergency shelter for Katonah residents,” Mr. Bergson said.    

The dispatch room and chief’s office need to be reconfigured and upgraded to accommodate an increased need for office space, computers, file storage and changes in dispatch procedures, according to the commissioners. The plans also call for the driveway and parking areas to be resurfaced and interior painting and other minor spruce-ups throughout the building.

The existing annex building to the rear of the firehouse would also be expanded to provide increased storage, including for the department’s rescue boat and the historic 1928 American LaFrance pumper wagon, as well as nonemergency fire equipment and equipment for the department’s annual carnival and parade.

The annex expansion would also include a three-story, 16-by-16-foot tower structure that would be used for state-mandated bailout rope training. “It’s not unsubstantial training, and this new tower would enable the department’s firefighters to complete that required rope training,” said Don Scott, another member of the board of commissioners.

The training tower could also be used by the volunteer fire departments in Bedford Hills and Bedford Village, the commissioners said.

Mr. Bergson said that in addition to hopefully using local contractors whenever possible for the work, the board plans to push for “green” elements to be introduced whenever practical to boost the energy efficiency and environmental friendliness of the firehouse and annex.

The Helmes Group, the architectural design, engineering and project management firm located in the hamlet, has been working with the fire district in drawing up the plans, and is expected to oversee the construction. 

Katonah’s fire commissioners will present an information session for the community on Wednesday, April 11, at 7:30 p.m. at the firehouse, located at 65 Bedford Road. The renovation proposal will be detailed, and building plans will be available for review.

All registered voters in the Katonah Fire District can vote on the mandatory referendum regarding the bond that would pay for the bulk of the project. Mr. Bergson said this week that district commissioners have decided to wait until after the public information session in April to set a date for the referendum.

Voters will be asked to give the district authority to expend no more than $3 million of which approximately $2.5 million will be raised by issuing bonds with a 10-year maturity. The remaining $500,000 will come out of the fire district’s capital reserves.

It is estimated the increased cost to an individual Katonah property owner will be about $1.42 per $1,000 of assessed value, which translates to an increase of about $108.12 per tax year for the average Katonah property owner. “And that increase will only be assessed over the 10-year course of the bond, so it’s not a permanent increase,” Mr. Bergson said, adding that the increase for individual taxpayers in the fire district would not kick in until 2013.

If approved, construction would begin late this summer, with completion anticipated by the end of 2012.

Fire commissioners believe they have developed a plan to accomplish the rehab work in a manner that will be as minimally disruptive as possible to the department and to neighbors, as well as to ensure the department can continue to meet the needs of the community during the work and long into the future.

“Because of the scope of the project and because of the expected disruptiveness of the work, it just seems to make a lot of sense to do it all in one big chunk as opposed to doing it in a lot of little pieces over a longer period of time,” Mr. Bergson said.

Although the project does not require any approval from the Town of Bedford, the plans were given to Bedford’s planning board for review. “They made two recommendations, which we already incorporated,” Mr. Bergson. “We didn’t have to go through any town approval, but we did it as part of our good neighbor policy, which we expect to adhere to throughout this project.”

Separate from the renovation project, the department has a new 75-foot ladder truck with pumping and first response capability on order, but that truck will be paid for entirely with capital reserves, according to the board chairman.

Organized in 1874, the all-volunteer Katonah Fire Department currently has over 75 active members providing fire protection for a 14-square-mile area with six pieces of fire apparatus: a mini-attack truck, three pumpers, a tanker and a rescue truck. The department also maintains and houses a rescue boat, two utility vehicles, an 1874 hand pumper, and the antique American LaFrance pumper.



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March 9, 2012