The Board of Selectmen will vote next week on a proposed $20.5 million new Central Fire Station, a source of contention between the fire department and preservation groups that want the historic building to remain.
"The conditions in this building are not healthy," said Fire Chief Joseph Siecienski. "The facility that lies in front of you represents an organization deeply steeped in tradition. ... We certainly are conscious of any tradition and history. Men and women put their lives on the line to save that history. But it cannot be understated that the building that is now opposed ... represents a $9 million savings and more importantly the building as proposed represents the needs of a modern fire service."
The selectmen will vote at a June 1 meeting on whether to give the fire station project Municipal Improvement Status. The selectmen pushed back the vote to allow for further public comment. If the status is granted, it would set in motion plans to demolish the 39,500-square-foot Central Fire Station to make way for a new one. The replacement would include three floors, a 32,540-square-foot basement level for storage and a 3,000-square-foot mechanical penthouse.
The new station would also be set back 52 feet from the curb of Havemeyer Place, allowing fire trucks to turn onto the street safely. It would also create a larger space for inspecting fire equipment and vehicles and for an underground vault for an electric transformer and backup generator. If the project were approved, it would go to the Planning and Zoning Commission to begin the municipal improvement process.
However, the Greenwich Preservation Trust and the Historic District Commission both oppose replacing any building on the National Register of Historic Places, including the fire station, which was built in 1937. Jo Conboy, chair of the Preservation Trust, said the fire station is the only Art Deco civic structure in Greenwich. The two entities prefer the building be renovated, which would cost $29 million. "It may cost a little more money, but this is the fabric of our community," said Conboy.
However, town facilities manager Alan Monelli said renovations would not resolve operational issues, such as the short apron and insufficient turning radius for the fire trucks. In addition, for the station to meet new earthquake codes, limestone must be removed to reinforce roof beams. Other concerns, such as moisture penetration, lack of thermal insulation and the limestone itself would need to be addressed.
"This building, when it was originally designed, didn't use stairways, it used poles," said Monelli, referring to the now-outlawed practice. "The stairways in this building are not protected from fire. People forget that firemen are people, too, and they're protected by the same fire codes that protect you and I."
First Selectman Peter Tesei made a deal in March with Republicans on the Board of Estimate and Taxation to delay construction until fiscal year 2014. That timetable would remain in effect if the plan were approved. Earlier this month, the Representative Town Meeting approved a plan to move the Central Fire Station to temporary quarters at the Horseneck Lane commuter parking lot.
Where do you stand on the Central Fire Station debate? Should the building be renovated or replaced? Comment below or send responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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