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Aug 28, 2012 3:52 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Westhampton Beach Fire District Lifts Curtain On Three Firehouse Plans

Aug 29, 2012 10:58 AM

Representatives of the Westhampton Beach Fire District unveiled three vastly different plans to the public last week regarding proposed renovations to the Sunset Avenue firehouse, a project that they say is needed to bring the 59-year-old building up to code and better fit the needs of volunteer firefighters.

Fire district officials stressed that the plans are still in their early planning phases and, therefore, were unable to provide cost estimates for any of the three proposals.

The most drastic of the plans would call for the demolition of the two-story, 12,296-square-foot firehouse, as well as a smaller 1,721-square-foot building that stands behind it and once served as Village Police headquarters, replacing both with a brand new firehouse. Officials have not said how big the new firehouse would be.

The least complicated of the plans would require the renovation of the existing firehouse, while the other proposal would call for the razing of the old police building, which is currently used for storage, and expanding and renovating the existing firehouse. Both buildings, which have been owned by the fire district since 2002 and were purchased with a bond, sit on 1.68 acres.

Sandpebble Builders, the project managers from Southampton, and H2M, an architectural and engineering firm in Melville hired as consultants for the project, as well as representatives of the fire district, all declined to release estimated prices for the proposed upgrades—which would be funded through a districtwide bond and paid by taxpayers—citing potential changes to the plans based on input from residents. Fire district officials said they hope to schedule a public referendum for next spring.

“It is important that we are going to live here and work here for years, and we want to get this right,” said Darryl Schunk, one of the Westhampton Beach fire commissioners, at the beginning of last Wednesday evening’s meeting held at the firehouse. “This is an informational meeting and a request to give your input so we can make the right project.”

The hour-long meeting, which was attended by approximately 15 people—half of whom were associated with either the fire district or fire department—started with a joint presentation by Eric Maisch and Ron Lanner, both with H2M, about the main issues found with the current building that was built in 1953. Together, they outlined key issues in safety and response, code and maintenance, and program deficiencies.

According to Mr. Maisch, the safety and response issues include a lack of clearance between fire trucks when stored in the firehouse, no vehicle exhaust system inside the bays, and the lack of a designated area for first responders to get dressed. The firehouse also does not feature a traffic light in front of it to control vehicles during alarms.

Regarding the code and maintenance issues, the building does not meet the requirements of the American Disabilities Act, its generators are taxed performing basic functions and the ground floor is slanted inward, a condition that has damaged the frames of several vehicles. Also, they said the building is not energy efficient and noted that a lot of mechanical equipment is stored in the basement, which recently experienced flooding.

Additionally, fire officials are currently using the truck garage for storage, which is something they would like to change, and noted that the firehouse offers no open space for the required training of volunteers. They also said that additional parking is needed for volunteers.

“From where we stand today, there are generally three approaches that we have been exploring,” Mr. Maisch said of the possible remedies currently being floated. “We have some rough floor plans associated with this.”

The first approach would be to improve the existing firehouse by renovating the back portion of the building. The upgrades, according to Mr. Maisch and Mr. Lanner, would address some of the space issues for the trucks and create more storage. They agreed that the modifications would also fix some of the code issues but also predicted that the building, if this plan is pursued, would require additional renovations in the near future. The footprint of the building would remain the same under the plan.

The second plan presented last week calls for blowing out the back of the firehouse and razing the old police building while keeping the main structure. Under this plan, the firehouse would be expanded on its sides and rear, adding more room for trucks and other emergency response vehicles. Space would also be set aside for volunteers to get dressed and put on their gear.

The third plan would be to raze the current firehouse and build a new one in its stead that would meet all of the fire district’s needs. Officials said they would work to make the new building as environmentally friendly as possible, potentially creating a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certified building. “This will get you toward that 50- to 75-year solution that you ultimately will see,” Mr. Maisch said.

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