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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, January 21, 2010

Westmere FD plans new $5M firehouse

By Anne Hayden

GUILDERLAND — The Westmere Fire District is hoping to begin work on a brand new firehouse, a $5.27 million project, in the spring. The project, if approved by fire district voters in March, would result in a tax levy increase of 24 cents per $1,000.

Discussions on updating the firehouse began in 2005, according to John Keimer, commissioner of the district. The original building, at 1741 Western Ave., was constructed in 1956, and has had five additions in the last 54 years. When the district began reviewing the updates necessary to the current firehouse, it came concluded that tearing down the original structures and building a new one it its place would cost less.

“We have not taken this project lightly. It took five years to come to our decision,” Keimer said. The Westmere Fire District, founded in 1935, covers 2,700 homes, eight apartment complexes, three schools, four churches, and Crossgates Mall. The district levies taxes on properties within its boundaries to pay for equipment, maintenance, and training. The district stretches north to south from the Albany city line to Wormer Road, and east to west from Schoolhouse Road to the Prospect Hill Cemetery.

Though there are a variety of reasons that a new building is necessary, Keimer said the biggest motivation is safety, especially in the apparatus room. The vehicles, he said, would no longer fit through the existing bay doors, if the updated models get any larger.

After an evaluation, the district also determined that the firehouse would need to replace its roof, its heating and air conditioning systems, and fix its plumbing and electrical problems. Keimer said that the roof replacement alone would cost over $2 million, because, due to the five “box-on-box” type additions, the building really has six separate roofs.

“Doing nothing with the station was no longer an option,” said Keimer. He said the district understands that a tax increase will be a cause of concern to residents, but that, if only the roof were fixed, taxes would still go up, and they’d go up again in the next several years when the heating, air-conditioning, plumbing, and electrical problems were addressed.

Even though the economy is troubled, it’s a good time to start a construction project, according to Keimer, because labor and materials are cheaper.

“The tax increases won’t take place until 2012, and we’re hopeful that the economy will be back on track by then,” Keimer said. He also explained that the project will be funded through a Firehouse Building Bond, and the interest rates now are relatively low.

The projected tax levy increase of 24 cents per $1,000 means an estimated annual cost of $47.27 on a property value of $200,000. The bond will take 25 years to pay off. For that same $200,000 house, the total payment over the 25-year bond would be roughly $1200.

The new firehouse, which would occupy roughly the same footprint as the old one, would increase in square footage, from nearly 15,000 square feet, to almost 22,000 square feet.  The firehouse would be built several feet further back from Western Avenue, to provide extra room for trucks to back into the bays without holding up traffic.

The bays are currently eight feet wide and nearly too small for the trucks to back into — Keimer said a new trainee had such a tough time that he backed into the building. The bays on the new firehouse would be 14 feet wide and 14 feet tall. Keimer said that he doesn’t anticipate any truck in the near future would need more space than that.

“This new building will be functional for the next 50 years,” he said. The firehouse would also include energy-efficient heating and cooling systems, more office space, modern meeting rooms, and separate men’s and women’s bathrooms and showers.

The project would take approximately 12 months to complete, and Keimer said the first item on the list is tearing down and re-building two outbuildings.

“We’re a fire department, and we need to remain operational 24/7,” the commissioner said. The Western Turnpike Rescue Squad would provide bay space for some of the trucks, and, once the two outbuildings are finished, they would hold the rest of the equipment. The construction on the new, main firehouse would not begin until after those outbuildings are completed.

“Of course, all of this is contingent on community approval,” said Keimer. The district is holding a public information meeting at the firehouse on Feb. 25, and a referendum on March 23. In addition, the district included two e-mail addresses on a mailer it sent out to residents yesterday, which can be used for asking questions before the meetings.

If approved, construction on the outbuildings would begin in spring, and work on the main firehouse would start in the fall.

“I hope the community will support us; it is the right decision to make,” Keimer concluded.

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