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NH&L Looking Forward To New Firehouse

As 2014 opened, members of Newtown Hook & Ladder Company were looking forward hopefully, as their plans for a new firehouse in the borough finally were starting to take shape. The project will enable the fire company to own its facility rather than to continue as a tenant of the Town of Newtown.

The group, which has served as a local firefighting organization since 1883, for more than 25 years has sought new quarters that would suitably provide shelter and storage for its equipment.

The antiquated town-owned firehouse at 45 Main Street that contains Hook & Ladder’s equipment long ago was deemed structurally unsound and ill-suited for sheltering the heavy, modern rolling stock that firefighting units now use.

As a stopgap, the town then installed structural steel beams within the firehouse to shore up the garage floor of the main level to allow it to support heavy parked fire trucks. Also, the building’s western exterior wall was braced to counteract large cracks in it.

Multiple proposals for a new Hook & Ladder firehouse at multiple places have failed to materialize over the years for various reasons.

The town’s four other volunteer fire companies — Dodgingtown, Hawleyville, Sandy Hook, and Botsford — each own their firehouses. Hook & Ladder, however, does not, and occupies a municipally owned structure behind Edmond Town Hall.

 

Trinity Site

It is expected that a transaction will soon occur through which Trinity Episcopal Church of 36 Main Street would sell three acres to Hook & Ladder for $500,000 for firehouse construction.

The church owns eight acres that have frontage on Main Street and Church Hill Road. The site has R-1 (Residential) zoning. The property’s use is regulated by the Borough Zoning Commission.

Hook & Ladder would acquire three acres on the eastern side of the church property in an area abutting Newtown Shopping Village at 6 Queen Street. Vehicle access to the firehouse site would branch off of an existing driveway that enters the church property on the south side of Church Hill Road, across Church Hill Road from its intersection with Wendover Road.

So that Hook & Ladder could effectively initiate the transition from housing its equipment in municipal quarters to housing it in quarters that the fire company owns, the town would provide an overall $1.5 million toward the cost of the firehouse project, disbursed across three successive fiscal years in $500,000 increments.

In 2010, the fire company unsuccessfully sought to build an 11,400-square-foot firehouse on the north side of Sugar Street, west of its intersection with Elm Drive.

More recently, it unsuccessfully sought to build a firehouse on the east side South Main Street, near Borough Lane.

Hook & Ladder President Rick Camejo said December 31 that lawyers are reviewing the paperwork required for the church to sell the land to the fire company. Church members endorsed selling the land in November.

After the transaction occurs, the fire company would formulate a zoning application for the project, according to Mr Camejo.

The project could take a year or more to construct, he said. Fire company members plan to build a structure that is architecturally compatible with the area, he said. The area is generally commercial, with much retail space. Many of the professional offices in the area are located within old houses that have been converted for commercial use.

Mr Camejo noted that because the fire company is pursuing acquiring the Trinity property for a firehouse site, its has dropped its previous proposal seeking land for a firehouse in the Johnnycake Lane area, off Mt Pleasant Road.

Under the plans to acquire the three acres along Church Hill Road from Trinity, the fire company would own both the land and the firehouse. The fire company would pay off a mortgage covering the land and the building, he said. In effect, the town’s $1.5 million in funding toward the overall project would function as a subsidy to the fire company, Mr Camejo said.

The overall price for the project, including land, site development, and firehouse construction, is not yet clear, Mr Camejo said.

The new firehouse would contain sufficient garage space to house the seven existing fire vehicles that are housed at 45 Main Street and possibly an eighth vehicle, he said.

The Church Hill Road site of the three-acre parcel is a good location for a new firehouse, he said, noting its central location.

The Church Hill Road location is a much better place for such a facility than the town-owned Fairfield Hills campus, he said. Hook & Ladder officials have long opposed proposals for a new firehouse at Fairfield Hills, stressing that Fairfield Hills is not central in their fire district, and thus not a practical place for such a facility.

 

Moving Toward Independence

First Selectman Pat Llodra said that lawyers working for the town would formulate legal wording to protect the town in describing the legal relationship between the town and Hook & Ladder, and also in explaining the role of the $1.5 million in municipal funds to be used toward the firehouse project.

The funding would serve as a catalyst toward having Hook & Ladder achieve “independence” from the town, similar to that of the four other fire companies, she said. “That’s a big hurdle,” she said.

Mrs Llodra said that toward that goal, Hook & Ladder would “own the project” from the start.

“Clearly, the firehouse they’re in now is not a suitable location” in terms of the storage of modern fire equipment, she said.

The physical deficiencies of the existing firehouse have been clearly known since at least 1999, she said.

Fire protection is a “critical service,” she said, noting that the current firehouse does not meet current public safety standards.

The Newtown Volunteer Ambulance Corps is constructing a new garage/headquarters off Wasserman Way at Fairfield Hills to replace its existing outdated ambulance garage at 77 Main Street.

A citizens group has started a fundraising drive in seeking money for the construction of a new police station, possibly at Fairfield Hills, to replace the existing station at 3 Main Street, which police officials consider as too small and outdated.

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