Outgoing village president drafts downsized station plan, broaches merging with Waubeka
Chuck Lapicola has announced he is stepping down when his current term as village president expires in April, but he is dead set against taking a lame-duck approach to his final months in office.
That point was driven home last week when Lapicola talked about his vision for the Fredonia Fire Department with the Public Works Committee and the Fire Department Modernization Committee.
Lapicola, a retired civil engineer, opened the meeting by detailing an alternate plan for the renovation of the fire station on South Milwaukee Street.
A needs assessment completed last year by Strand Associates said it would cost as much as $2.5 million to build a new 13,000-square-foot fire station or $1.8 million to build a 7,500-square-foot addition to the existing building.
Lapicola showed the committees modified addition plans that he said would meet the department’s needs but cost much less. He suggested knocking out the back wall of the station, and creating additional space for vehicles and personnel to the west of the existing building.
“I think a much less costly approach would be to create a mirror addition to the existing building. We could simply take the roof off and put in new trusses connected to a new load-bearing wall,” Lapicola said.
“I want to get the fire department the facilities it needs, but I don’t see how we can afford $2.5 million.”
Members of the fire department were unprepared to react to the impromptu building design, and were caught completely off guard when Lapicola touched on an even more controversial topic — the prospect of combining the Fredonia and Waubeka fire departments.
“I am willing to meet with (Town Chairman) Rich Mueller and talk about the possibility of merging the two fire departments,” Lapicola said.
“That is just something I wanted to put on the table.”
The idea of merging the neighboring fire departments has been mentioned in passing in the past, but neither department has pushed for the move.
Fire department representatives, including Fire Chief Brian Schommer, were stunned when the suggestion was made last week.
“I am not ready to discuss that topic without any advance warning,” Schommer said.
Steering the discussion back to the department’s building needs, Schommer said Lapicola’s alternative plan fails to take into consideration the space needs of increasingly larger trucks.
“The next time we have to replace a truck, we will be paying a premium to have it specially built to fit into our building,” Assistant Fire Chief Chris Kunstmann added.
The orientation of Lapicola’s proposed addition would force emergency equipment to make a sharp turn onto Park Street and then onto South Milwaukee Street, which bothered fire department members.
Showers for EMS personnel as well as other OSHA requirements and storage for equipment is also not addressed in the revised plans, fire department members said.
Department officers also balked at the suggestion that they would have to convince the public of the need for fire station improvements if the issue is put to a community referendum vote.
“Why would you put this to a referendum, letting people decide the needs of the fire department without ever having set foot in the fire station?” asked Assistant Fire Chief Brian Weyker.
“I find it hard to swallow, going to referendum when the community doesn’t understand our needs.”
Lapicola said the resistance to the controversial topics was not unexpected.
“I knew there would be a lot of angst out there, but we have to look at all of our options,” he said.
“I am not pushing for any of these approaches.”
Schommer advocated a slow approach.
“I don’t think anything should be done until the new (Village) Board is in place. You are looking at changes to half the board,” he said.
In addition to Lapicola, incumbent trustees Scott Ehaney and Fritz Buchholtz are not seeking re-election.
Ehaney, who is a member of the Public Works Committee, said discussion of the future of the fire department should not be put off to some indefinite date.
“We are talking about setting the stage for years down the line. My concern is that this not be something we put off for five years or 10 years down the road,” he said.
“I think the fire department deserves the best facilities and best equipment, but I just don’t think we can afford it. We can’t just raise taxes unless we get the village to vote for a building, and I just don’t see that happening.”
Lapicola said the facility needs of the Fredonia and Waubeka fire departments could be met if a joint fire station is built, possibly on land that has been offered on Highway I.
Before the discussion could go much further, the fire department members were paged to respond to a fire call, leaving the meeting in unison.
Trustee John Long said the Village Board should be asked to consider whether money should be set aside to develop detailed plans for a fire station project as the precursor for a referendum.
The money for those plans, which is expected to cost up to $40,000, could be included in the borrowing the village anticipates for the Fredonia Avenue reconstruction project.
Trustees have not committed to holding a referendum on the fire station, but it has been suggested that timing such a vote to coincide with the 2016 presidential election would ensure the greatest voter participation.
Last year, a divided Village Board rejected plans to raise impact fees on new construction by $1,102 to help offset the cost of a new fire station.