Middle Island voters approve $15.7M firehouse

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Middle Island Fire District voters have approved a $15.7 million firehouse to replace an aging structure that officials said is obsolete.

The new facility was approved 445-128 in a referendum last Tuesday, the district announced on its website.

Fire Commissioner Walter Olszewski said he was gratified by the public's support, after two previous firehouse referendums were defeated in the past 12 years.

"It was overwhelmingly a bit of relief, and it kind of confirmed that the community was behind us," Olszewski said of the vote. "It definitely will be a positive for the department and the community."

The structure, which will take two to three years to build, will be financed with $12.7 million in borrowing and $3 million from reserves, fire district officials said.

Olszewski said he could not estimate a tax increase because district officials have not decided whether to seek a 20-year or 25-year bond.

Taxes on the average home will go up about $200 annually to pay for the firehouse, district officials said in a presentation to residents that was posted on the fire district website.

The new 24,572-square-foot facility, which will be built behind an existing firehouse on Arnold Drive, will enable the Middle Island Fire Department to house fire trucks in a single building, district officials said. Trucks have been stored in three separate buildings at the site, they said.

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The existing 14,680-square-foot firehouse has a leaky roof, is not compliant with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act and has faulty heating and air conditioning, fire chief Matthew Gropper wrote in a letter to residents that was posted on the district website.

District officials said the existing structure is "functionally obsolete" and too small to meet the needs of the district's growing population. Emergency calls to the fire department have jumped from about 450 in 1976 to 1,800 last year, and the district's population has risen by more than 5,000 since 1980, officials said.

Olszewski said renovating the firehouse was ruled out, adding, "It would cost us more to refurb the place than to knock it down and build a new structure."

The existing firehouse, built in 1953, was expanded in 1960 and in the 1970s. Fire vehicles also are stored in an adjacent 2,543-square-foot storage shed and a 1,000-square-foot section of a mechanic's building, officials said.

The new facility will cut power costs because it will have more energy-efficient lighting, heating and ventilation systems, officials said.

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