Just a week after the Representative Town Meeting adopted the 2011-12 budget which includes more than $2 million to begin the Central Fire Station project, the Board of Selectmen held its bi-weekly meeting at the Havemeyer Place firehouse.
To say that the building, opened in 1937, is lacking in facilities is an understatement. While the selectmen listened to a presentation by the town's facilities manager Alan Monelli and Fire Chief Peter Siecenski explaining why the project is needed and how it would proceed, paint was peeling from the ceiling and walls of the garage bays where the meeting was held. The bay doors were open because the trucks had to parked outdoors to make room for the meeting. The continuous din of downtown traffic drowned out the presentation, prompting the use of a microphone in the close quarters.
The town is seeking to relocate the staff of the Central Fire Station and their equipment to temporary quarters to be erected on a portion of the Horseneck Lane commuter parking lot. Fire officials have said the move is necessary because the building at the corner of Havemayer Place and Mason Street continues to decay.
Rain water continues to seep through the limestone veneer, soaking plaster walls and ceilings in sleeping quarters, bathrooms, offices and even the garage bays. Paint and plaster are peeling and falling throughout the building. Two of the four shower stalls in the upstairs quarters cannot be used by the four eight-person squads who staff the headquarters for 24-hour shifts.
Inside the bunk room, portable fans continuously blow air through the room to help dry water-soaked walls. Shades are taped to the tops of the window frames. There aren't usable bathroom facilities for women. During last Thursday's meeting, a firefighter stood guard at the door of the men's room while a woman used the facilities.
The kitchen is a potpourri of equipment, cabinets and a table collected from various homes being torn down in town, according to firefighters. There aren't any refrigerators in the kitchen - there is a collection of hand-me-down refrigerators in an adjacent room, one for each squad. Lockers line cramped upstairs hallways and additional gear that cannot fit in the lockers is stored in a caged space at the rear of the garage bays.
The selectmen accepted the presentation made by Monelli and Siecenski and scheduled a vote on whether to grant municipal improvement status to the project for its June 1 meeting.
Monelli said that while preservationists contend the building is historically significant, it is more expensive - about $29 million - to retrofit and renovate the building. And in doing so, firefighters would still have to deal with issues including a lack of proper space to maneuver trucks out of the building.
At Thursday's meeting, Jo Conboy of the Greenwich Preservation Trust suggested the building be adapted to another use if it were too expensive to retrofit. Monelli said that any use of the building would require considerable retrofitting to meet new building and safety codes including regulations that buildings withstand earthquakes.
Once the selectmen approve the municipal improvement status, the project will be presented to the Planning and Zoning Commission. Town officials hope to have firefighters moved into their temporary quarters by fall. If approved, the rebuilding project would be completed in 2014.