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Occum fire station in Norwich awarded $100,000 state grant for renovations

Norwich — The Occum Volunteer Fire Department on Route 97 has been awarded a $100,000 state grant to cover a host of building upgrade projects, but city officials want to study the project further before accepting the grant.

The City Council on Monday voted to delay action on whether to accept the grant and referred the issue to the council’s Public Works and Capital Improvements Committee. The committee will research the project and vote on a recommendation at its Oct. 18 meeting just prior to the City Council meeting that night.

The grant from the state Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection would cover renovations including handicapped-accessible first-floor bathrooms, refurbishing the second-story meeting room floor, new entrance doors and a new exterior sign to announce upcoming events and public safety alerts, fire Chief Carroll Spaulding told the City Council on Monday. He said the project does not include making the second floor handicapped-accessible, as that would be too costly.

Prior to Monday’s meeting, City Manager John Salomone said the grant does not require a matching share from the city or the fire department, and the work was not included in this year’s city capital improvements budget.

Spaulding said the department has a list of projects that need to be done on the building and will use the grant to cover the top priorities. The agreement with the state calls for the grant to be paid in two installments as work is done.

But aldermen expressed concern Monday that portions of the fire station building are in the 100-year flood plain and other portions are in the 500-year flood plain, city Corporation Counsel Michael Driscoll said. The Shetucket River runs behind the property.

Although the building does not have a history of flooding, aldermen were concerned about federal regulations that call for major flood-proofing measures if a building in a flood plain is renovated to the level of 50% of the total building value. Council President Mark Bettencourt said he has been assured that the proposed renovations would not reach that level.

Alderman William Nash said he agrees the council should have oversight of how the grant is spent but cautioned that too much city involvement could cause delays and cost overruns not covered by the grant or the city budget. He pointed to cost overruns in a renovation project at the Taftville Volunteer Fire Department as an example.

Spaulding told the council the grant process started in 2019 under a previous fire chief working with state Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague. At the time, the grant total was expected to be $80,000, and now the funding approved is $100,000.

c.bessette@theday.com

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