Greenport FD pitches $7.1M plan for new firehouse

Greenport Fire Chief Harry Breese (right) addresses the Village Board at Wednesday night's meeting. (Credit: Paul Squire)
Greenport Fire Chief Harry Breese (right) addresses the Village Board at Wednesday night’s meeting. (Credit: Paul Squire)

As a corner of the roof at the Greenport firehouse on Third Street began to leak Wednesday night, Fire Chief Harry Breese pitched three “ball park” ideas to the Greenport Village board on how to fix the building.

But for Mr. Breese and his fellow firefighters, one of the three seemed to make the most sense: tear down the old firehouse and build a new one in its place at the same location for roughly $7.1 million.

Wednesday night’s meeting was the result of an October discussion between the Fire Chief and the Village Board about how to repair the aging building, as well as months of work by the Melville-based engineering firm H2M.

Mr. Breese mentioned the leaking roof, inadequate space for firefighters and frequent termite infestations as problems that have plagued the current firehouse.

He described the other two options presented — a $1.9 million upgrade package or a $3.8 million addition — as being “band-aids” on the bigger problem of having a lasting firehouse.

“Eventually this place is going to be have to torn down,” he said. “We’re looking 20, 30 years down the road.”

The Fire Department came before the board to show all three proposals before exploring any further.

Since the Fire Department’s budget is included in the village’s annual budget, it would need Village Board approval. The Fire Department would have to cover the debt taken to finish the project by taking money out of its budget, village officials said.

Deputy Mayor and Village Trustee George Hubbard Jr, who led the meeting in Mayor David Nyce’s absence, said mistakes made decades ago have led to the current problems at the firehouse.

When the current firehouse was built, the remains of the old structure were thrown into the ground and buried instead of being properly disposed of, Mr. Hubbard said. That has made the termite problem difficult to solve, as the bugs crawl up from the remains.

Mr. Hubbard said that though the building is aging, the increase in village taxes needed to support the project would be staggering.

“We could easily double village taxes in one year,” he said. “That could be very difficult to sell to the public.”

The overall cost of the project, taking into account construction, engineering costs and debt payments, could reach about $13 million, according to Village Treasurer Robert Brandt Jr.

Mr. Brandt said the fire department was currently paying off $150,000 per year related to a previous purchase of two new pumper trucks. That debt service will expire in 2017, he said.

Mr. Hubbard suggested the firefighters look into grant funding to cover most of the cost.

Village Trustee Mary Bess Phillips also suggested speaking to legislators, telling the fire department to “be creative.” Both she and Mr. Hubbard said the board would be willing to work with the firefighters once they come back with a concrete proposal to replace the firehouse.

“We need to know what you want to do … and then it has to be a cooperated effort between all of us,” Ms. Phillips said.

“Is the general consensus that you guys want a new building?” asked Village Trustee David Murray.

Board of Wardens member Joe Barszczewski said the consultant engineers’ reports show it would be more expensive to constantly make repairs to the current building than to simply start over.

“In the long run it’s more economical to go with a new building than to try to fix the ills that are here right now,” he said. “I don’t think it started out as let’s knock [it down] … It looks like it’s the better way to go.”

After the firefighters left, the board’s regular meeting continued. But the meeting was briefly delayed, after the constant patter of water hitting a plastic bag under one of the roof’s leaks became too distracting.

As Village Administrator Paul Pallas adjusted the jury-rigged solution to catch the melting snow, Mr. Hubbard smiled.

“Do [the firefighters] need a new building?” he joked. “I think they did that on purpose. It’s a setup.”

“They’re out there with the hose right now,” Mr. Murray quipped.

Correction: This headline previously incorrectly stated that the price tag for the new firehouse would be $7.8 million, not $7.1 million. We regret the error.

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