Financing for the proposed renovation of the Lawrence-Cedarhurst Fire Department firehouse at Washington and Central avenues in Lawrence has been solidified, with the two villages agreeing to fund the $2 million project.
The municipalities approved resolutions for the 15-year financing plan at meetings on Oct. 15 (in Cedarhurst) and 18 (in Lawrence). Lawrence will pay $1.074 million, Cedarhurst will contribute $736,170 and the North Lawrence Fire District and the Town of Hempstead will cover the remaining $199,820 of the project’s cost.
The villages also approved separate new five-year fire service contracts. They are retroactive to June 1, 2001, and run through May 30, 2016.
The LCFD provides additional fire service to the North Lawrence Fire District and communities outside the villages in the Town of Hempstead.
The renovation project for the firehouse could get under way next week. Department officials obtained a Lawrence village building permit on Oct. 19.
“The Fire Department is doing a very responsible job of getting it done under a tight budget,” said Cedarhurst Deputy Mayor Benjamin Weinstock. “We are satisfied the numbers are reasonable. It is critically important and a matter of safety for the firefighters.”
Working in a headquarters that was built 110 years ago and last renovated in 1971 — albeit with a three-bay extension — has made it difficult for the department to shift its equipment, as fire trucks have grown in size and emergency vehicles have been added to its fleet.
“I’m looking forward to the project starting,” said 1st Assistant Fire Chief John McHugh. “More apparatus will be able to be moved in and out faster, and it will be safer for the department members.”
The expansion will include an extension of the building on the Washington Avenue side to accommodate a larger pumper truck and an ambulance on the first floor, and office space, the department’s command center and a handicapped-accessible bathroom upstairs.
Despite the need for an expansion, the project’s approval took three years of planning and waiting for the villages to sign off on the plans. Cedarhurst took a cautious approach in order to ensure that the financing plan was solid, Weinstock said. “We were very conservative with this,” he said, “and we saw there was a legitimate need.”
The process in Lawrence was a bit more contentious. When LCFD officials initially went to get the building permit on Oct. 17, they were told they would have to pay a $30,000 fee — 1.5 percent of the project’s estimated cost, village officials said.
For their part, Fire Department officials said that the village never mentioned such a fee. “Through all the negotiations, this was never brought up,” said Fire Commissioner Edward Koehler, addressing the Lawrence village board last week.
Lawrence Mayor Martin Oliner angrily fired back that the village has done “everything conceivable we can do,” including paying the largest portion of the financing, approving the needed variances and granting the use of village land. “It’s incredulous, unfair and inappropriate,” Oliner said of Koehler’s claim about the fee, which the mayor assumed the department was aware of. Sounding more conciliatory, Oliner added, “The lawyers haven’t drafted the documents yet. We want the project to happen.”
There was discussion of the village’s waiving 53 percent of the fee — the portion of the renovation project that Lawrence is funding. “We are very close to making this happen,” said Trustee Michael Fragin. “A fee should not be an issue.”
But the board ultimately made no decision on waiving part of the fee, and, McHugh said, the department paid the full $30,000 for the permit.