CHAPPAQUA, N.Y. -- Chappaqua residents will decide on Tuesday evening whether to approve or reject a proposed expansion of the existing Bedford Road firehouse, a project that would represent the most significant alteration to the structure since its last addition roughly four decades ago.
The total cost for the project, to be paid for with going out to bond, is roughly $15.3 million. Of that amount, a little more than $2.6 million would go towards purchasing an adjacent property, which is currently the site of the Chappaqua Animal Hospital.
Voters will get to decide, as two separate questions, on the land purchase and on the expansion itself.
New Castle Fire District No. 1, which is the taxing entity that governs the Chappaqua Fire Department, is in contract to purchase the animal hospital property.
The expansion is projected to result in an annual property tax increase of $215.56 for the average assessed household, with the "land portion" being $37.49 and the "building portion" being $178.07. That figure represents a fire-protection tax increase, for an average household, of roughly 50 percent; the current tax bill is $425.65 and would rise to a total of $641.20.
Affected taxpayers are New Castle residents who reside in the fire district, which covers the southern-to-central part of the town. Residents in the western part of New Castle are in the Millwood Fire District, while residents in the northeastern and southeastern parts of town are covered by the Mount Kisco Fire Department.
The proposal calls for doubling the firehouse's square footage, from the current 13,373 to 29,899. However, the expansion would involve a consolidation of facilities, as it would allow for the replacement of a workout space and an antique-firetruck storage space that are currently located in the old 1920s firehouse on Senter Street. That structure, which has been deemed functionally obsolete and is 3,625 square feet, would be sold off to help pay for the expansion.
The addition is being sought due to changing needs and regulations for safety and equipment storage.
Bob Mitchell, an architect who is working on the building, discussed why the expansion is needed at a public information session earlier this month. The original section of the Bedford Road firehouse was built in the 1970s and its eastern-most addition was built in the 1950s. Since then, Mitchell noted, regulations have changed regarding where firefighters can travel in trucks and emissions controls have resulted in the vehicles becoming larger. Those bigger firetrucks, however, are harder to fit into existing bays.
Additionally, Mitchell noted how the older bay spaces are too cramped for firefighters to safely navigate, as falling under the trucks can be a risk.
“We want adequate safe clearance around them," Mitchell said.
Furthermore, Mitchell noted that the firehouse currently lacks sufficient storage space for equipment and does not have adequate space for decontamination of gear. In the case of the latter, Mitchell noted that toxic substances brought back from fires are problematic. Mitchell also noted that not maintaining gear properly can also lead to the spread of MRSA.
The expansion also includes more training space; Mitchell noted that the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) says 20 percent of firefighters' training should be at a station instead of remotely, and the upgrade is intended to fulfill that threshold.
The expansion, which would include a major renovation of the existing firehouse spaces, is also meant to make sure that the building becomes compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). Currently, the structure is grandfathered in but cannot meet current accommodative requirements.
In terms of aesthetics, the expansion is meant to blend in, as it will share the same facade as the existing parts of the structure.
A new public meeting space would also be included on the second floor of the addition, which would replace the relatively cramped quarters on the first floor. The space is intended to be open for public gatherings, and, it was noted, can be secured to keep people from wondering off into firematic spaces.
The expansion includes three new bay windows facing King Street (Route 120). The bays are drive-through, as firetrucks would enter in the back by using Memorial Drive. The intention of the drive-through design, it was noted, is to reduce risks to firefighters' safety so that they can bring vehicles in without having to shut down King Street as much.
The district is on a limited time table, however, given that its contract to acquire the animal hospital site is not permanent.
Chris Weddle, who chairs the district's board of fire commissioners, warned at the information session that the district has to secure voter approval for the purchase before the contract expires. If the district fails to close on the purchase by the approaching deadline, then it could risk seeing the deal fall apart. Another possibility, Weddle noted, would be at the district is forced to pay $10,000 per month to keep extending the contract after its expiration.
If the referendum is approved, then the plan is to go out to bid for construction next spring and the complete the expansion by the summer of 2018.
The project has been met with some skepticism, however. At the public session, some residents felt that the project was too big in scale.
Brian Jabloner, a member of the board of fire commissioners, voiced support for the animal hospital land purchase but not for the expansion, arguing that should the volunteer fire department need to become a paid one, then there would be a risk in having built a structure that does not align with future usage.
Another concern from residents is with the voting hours, which are from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Bedford Road firehouse. Weddle noted that the hours, which are the minimum allowed under state law, could have been extended by the board of fire commissioners but argued that electors who could have helped run a longer voting period were not available. To postpone the date again, Weddle argued, would put the district in a position of having to pay to extend its purchasing contract.