Cutchogue Fire District floating $16M bond for firehouse expansion; vote now expected in September

The Cutchogue Fire Department has proposed a remodel of its existing facilities that would nearly double the current square footage. Voting on a bond for the estimated $16 million cost is scheduled for September. 

Commissioners said most of the building would be torn down and rebuilt. The nearly 21,000-square-foot rebuild would add a second floor and more efficient, sustainable plumbing and electrical equipment, including solar panels on the roof. 

Truck bays would be built to accommodate future vehicle upgrades and the new building would meet accessibility codes, with steel and masonry construction throughout. An updated floor plan would include space for administrative workers, community meetings and storage, along with a kitchen, bunkroom and members’ lounge.

The timeline for the project is estimated at a year to 18 months from bond approval, commissioners said. If the proposal is approved by the town over the next few months, construction could begin next spring. While work is in progress, fire vehicles would be moved to a building across the street and clerical work could be done in a rented office or a temporary structure. 

The project may not require the full $16 million bond, according to board chairman Dave Blados, but the department wants to avoid issuing another if costs run higher than expected.

A vote was originally planned for mid-August — civic groups sent out emails with the time and date — but the department is still waiting on the town to process its application, Mr. Blados said. The plans need Zoning Board of Appeals approval for minor setback variances. The goal is to hold the vote in September. 

An estimated debt service and tax impact summary for 23 years estimates a $15 million loan would result in a tax increase for fire district residents of $48.92 per $1,000 of assessed value. The same loan over 30 years would generate a tax increase of $44.59 per $1,000. 

Volunteers described the project and offered tours at a fire department open house on Saturday. Mr. Blados called it an opportunity for the public to “put their two cents in.”

Inside the firehouse Saurday. (Credit: Brianne Ledda)

During a facility tour, commissioner Mike Finnican pointed out several issues with the building, including cramped space, exposed electrical wiring and a leaking roof. 

“We’ve been patching it for years,” he said. He called the proposed expansion and renovations a “necessity,” and emphasized that the firehouse belongs to all Cutchogue taxpayers.

“It’s not just for the firemen. It’s for every taxpayer in Cutchogue,” he said. 

The original fire department building was constructed around 1928, according to a pamphlet distributed at the open house. It was expanded several times over the years to accommodate space needs, most recently in the 1990s. 

The pamphlet notes that two response vehicles are now housed in a building across the street from the main firehouse, which can cause problems for volunteers reporting to two different buildings. Turnout gear is stored on racks near the trucks, creating “a potentially dangerous situation when members are ‘gearing up’ alongside vehicles that could be moving,” it adds. 

The current building also lacks a required vehicle exhaust ventilation system, needed storage, and ADA accommodations. Other concerns, according to presentation documents, include numerous structural cracks in the 1928 portion of the building and the proximity of the existing kitchen to the truck bays, which poses a potential health code violation.

Additionally, the chief’s office is in a basement with one exit, directly under bathrooms that have been prone to leaking in recent years, causing damage to equipment and records.

“Bottom line is, the building is in such disrepair, this is probably the best way to do it. Can’t put money into something that’s going to get worse and worse,” Mr. Finnican said. “You get an old building, keep putting money into it, you get to the point where it’s like a refrigerator — you fix it so many times, eventually you have to buy a new refrigerator.”