KEENE - Plans to build a new fire station in Keene got a resounding vote of approval from the public on Tuesday, April 24.
A public referendum on the project passed 116-36. Alan Carey, director of the Keene Fire Board of Commissioners, told the Enterprise he was surprised by the high turnout.
"I'm very pleased," Carey said of the result, "and I'm pleased we had that much interest."
Keene's fire station was destroyed last Aug. 28 when heavy rains from Tropical Storm Irene caused Gulf Brook to spill its banks. Large portions of the building were swept away by flood waters.
Tuesday's nod of approval from Keene Fire District residents means the community will move ahead with plans to buy the Mountain Manor, located across from Stewart's Shop on state Route 73. That property was the most expensive of the nine sites fire officials considered, but Carey said it is also the best.
The Mountain Manor is owned by Linda LaBarge and is listed at a sale price of $399,000. Carey said he hopes the purchase price comes in lower than that.
Carey said the referendum lets the fire district spend up to $2.3 million to buy the land and construct the new firehouse, which includes three bays and an area for firefighter training. He said that figure is "artificially high to give us a little wiggle room.
"We don't expect it to be that high," Carey said.
The referendum also lets the fire district establish a new capital fund for the overall project and transfer funds from an existing equipment fund into the new capital fund.
Carey said the next step is to close the deal to buy the property.
"We have a closing date of April 30," he said. "We have done testing on the property with the owner's permission prior to the purchase to get a jump on it."
Carey said demolition of the existing buildings and excavation work will begin by the beginning of June at the earliest. Construction of the new station could start in July, although Carey said a start date is still up in the air.
Fire officials have committed to borrowing no more than $500,000 for the project, Carey said. That money would be paid back within 20 years without increasing fire district taxes, he added.
Carey said another $850,000 will come from existing reserve accounts. The hope, he said, is that the Federal Emergency Management Agency will be able to help with the remaining costs.
Keene Town Supervisor Bill Ferebee said he met with FEMA officials on Tuesday, and came out of that meeting with some "very positive information.
"I'm not at liberty to say what that information is until after Friday," Ferebee said. "I'm anxious for Friday to come and for FEMA to announce what their decision is to the fire department."
The fire district is also anticipating funds from insurance settlements that will go toward the project.
Hueber Breuer, a Syracuse-based construction firm that specializes in overseeing the building of new fire and rescue buildings, is helping the fire district with the project. Pacheco Ross Architects of Voorheesville has been selected to design the new station.
The Keene Fire District makes up about half of the town of Keene, which has another fire district for Keene Valley.