'Time has come' as North Stonington makes plans to replace aging firehouse

North Stonington - The North Stonington Volunteer Fire Company took one more step toward a new firehouse Tuesday night at the Board of Selectmen's regular meeting.

The board approved a request for $7,500 from the Fire/EMS Committee to help finalize construction plans and employ professional help to complete paperwork for a Rural Community Development loan through the federal Department of Agriculture.

Committee Chairman and Deputy Chief Mark Perkins Jr. said the USDA already has earmarked a $6.3 million loan for the project if the town votes approves a plan at referendum. The building plans are 90 percent complete, he said, and the last bit of legwork will firm up a cost projection so the committee may present an accurate number to the Board of Selectmen and Board of Finance.

Perkins said he hopes that will happen by the end of March.

"We're just at the final stages where we need some help completing things," Perkins said.

The station on Route 2 is more than 60 years old and has 47 active volunteers - the most in 10 years, Perkins said. Though various renovations and additions have been completed over the years, First Selectman Nick Mullane said, the last addition was about 30 years ago, and the building itself is antiquated.

"They do need a new building. Everybody agrees with that," Mullane said.

"It really doesn't fit the needs, and sooner or later we're going to have to get a new building."

The firehouse, built in 1947, has no insulation and no exhaust system: When the trucks are started up, Perkins said, a "black haze" permeates the building until the doors open, leaving behind a residue of diesel soot.

But Perkins said the need for a new firehouse is largely a space issue: The building has just one 6-by-8-foot office, which is shared by nine fire officers and four executive officers. The fire marshal works out of the old Town Hall building. There is no additional space for more offices, storage or training.

And the garage is not big enough for modern firetrucks. The fire company pays more for custom trucks that are small enough and, in 2009, the company had to remove the entire façade of the building to expand the width of the bay so the trucks could be backed in.

"You won't find an older firehouse around," Perkins said.

The new building would be constructed across the street from the current firehouse on Rocky Hollow Road, on an 8-acre parcel owned by the town. The move would consolidate the firehouse with the ambulance association, which now operates out of a separate two-bay garage on Mains Crossing Road.

An original building design concept from 2008 cost the fire company $40,000 from its own budget. The plan was tabled when the economy took a turn. This project would be somewhat cheaper - Perkins said he hopes to keep the total cost under $5 million - with a plan for a steel building instead of more expensive brick and mortar.

"The time has come," Perkins said. "The building is obsolete, basically."

a.isaacs@theday.com

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