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Guilderland Archives The Altamont Enterprise, March 25, 2010
By Anne Hayden
GUILDERLAND Despite the recession, the Westmere Fire District will have a new $5.27 million firehouse.
While fire department votes are frequently sparse, 377 people showed up Tuesday evening to vote on the project; 254 were in favor with 123 opposed. Fire Commissioner John Keimer said he had expected more of a turnout, after publicizing the proposal and holding two public information sessions.
The fire district also paid the Siena Research Institute to conduct a private phone survey about the project, to gauge how much people knew about the proposal, and how the fire district is perceived, in general. Keimer said 11 percent opposed the new firehouse, 34 percent approved, and 52 percent wanted more information.
The project will begin this spring, according to Keimer. The old firehouse, built in 1956, will be torn down. The next step is developing bid specifications to start the bidding process, Keimer said. The new firehouse is to be completed by the spring of 2012, and, at that point, a tax increase of 24 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation, for those living in the fire district, will take effect. The current tax rate for the district is 78 cents per $1,000.
The district, located at 1741 Western Ave., covers 2,700 homes, eight apartment complexes, three schools, four churches, and Crossgates Mall, and levies taxes on properties within its boundaries to pay for equipment, maintenance, and training.
Keimer said now is a good time to borrow money, because interest rates are historically low. Discussions on updating the original firehouse, which has had five additions, began in 2005. The current troubled economy is a good time to start a construction project, because labor and materials are cheaper, said Keimer.
The biggest motivation for re-building is safety, according to Keimer. He said vehicles would no longer fit through the existing bay doors if the updated models get any larger. The new firehouse will occupy roughly the same footprint as the old one, but will increase in square footage, from 15,000 to 22,000. It will be built several feet further back from Western Avenue, and have wider truck bays.
Keimer said the new building will be functional for the next 50 years, and will include energy-efficient heating and cooling systems, more office space, modern meeting rooms, and separate men’s and women’s bathrooms and showers.
He believes the residents largely approved the project because they understood that, if only the immediate problems were fixed, taxes would still go up, and they’d go up again in the next several years when various heating, air-conditioning, plumbing, and electrical problems were addressed.
“Doing nothing with the station was no longer an option,” said Keimer.