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North Stonington — The tiny conference room in Town Hall erupted with cheers Monday night as it was announced that voters had approved a proposed $6.36 million emergency services complex by a vote of 402-232.
“We’re very excited to get into a new facility that can support us,” said Brian Elias, president of the Ambulance Association, whose good spirits were joined by a loud roomful of other emergency services volunteers.
At a town meeting last week, members of the town’s Fire/EMS Committee and Ambulance Association outlined the problems with both aging buildings. They will now share a new two-story, 18,000-square-foot building that would be built on town-owned land across the street from the current firehouse location on Rocky Hollow Road.
Volunteers and committee members say both the ambulance and fire buildings are plagued with space and health issues, with offices the size of closets and trucks that scarcely fit in their bays. In both buildings, nothing separates the garage space from administrative and community space. The lack of ventilation has resulted in a perpetual diesel smell and soot residue on everything from the walls to the kitchen counters.
The 6,310-square-foot firehouse was built in 1947, with the last addition tacked on more than 30 years ago, and it has no insulation and no exhaust system.
In the 1,500-square-foot ambulance building on Mains Crossing, the one office space is more like a closet while the attic space where medical supplies are stored are a precarious ladder climb away.
Modern fire trucks and ambulances do not fit in either building. The volunteer fire company has had to spend extra money for custom trucks that can fit inside, and in 2009, the façade of the building was removed to slightly expand the width of the bay.
Town officials have uniformly spoken in support of the proposal, with many residents backing them, though some have raised concerns over the tax impact and whether other building projects should take precedence.
Residents were told at last Monday’s meeting that the annual bond payment for 20 years, based on interest rates from a USDA loan that will be approved pending voters’ approval, would be about $448,000. With the scheduled termination next June of some of the town’s debt repayments, whose debt impact is $405,000 annually, the net annual debt impact of the firehouse would be $43,000.
“It’s a really big step for the town in rebuilding its infrastructure. This is one major, major step towards doing that,” said Mark Perkins, Jr. chairman of the town’s Fire/EMS Committee.
“It’s a great day for the volunteers in our town, for sure,” he said, before whooping and announcing to another committee member, “I’m going to get a beer.”