Village eyes Petrova Ave property for emergency building
SARANAC LAKE — The village of Saranac Lake is entering the final stages of purchasing a portion of a property on Petrova Avenue to be the home of a new one-stop shop for police, fire and rescue.
The property is currently owned by Citizen Advocates, which operates an outpatient mental health and addiction clinic, as well as the Hhott House Greenhouse, a Citizen Advocates-owned and operated garden store.
The new public safety building will be a combined location for the village Police Department, Saranac Lake Volunteer Rescue Squad and the Saranac Lake Volunteer Fire Department, according to village Trustee Matt Scollin.
Citizen Advocates Director of Communications Joe Riccio said Citizen Advocates will provide the same level and range of clinical services it currently offers from its facilities adjacent to the former St. Pius X campus.
“There will be no job losses resulting from these changes,” according to a Citizen Advocates press release.
The main building on the land, the former St. Pius X High School, is a 35,000-square-foot building. Citizen Advocates has run a range of supportive services for adults and youth with developmental disabilities and addiction out of this location since the late 1970s.
The whole property is a little under 20 acres, Scollin said. If a proposed subdivision is approved, the village would purchase around 13 acres on the eastern side and Citizen Advocates will retain around 7 acres to continue to offer mental health and addiction services at its outpatient clinic on the west side.
Choosing the location
The village was initially looking to build a new emergency serviced building on the land behind the current fire station on Broadway. Scollin said fire and rescue leaders were “reasonably happy where they were” and with the historic value of the firehall in the heart of downtown, they felt it was important for recruitment, retention and response time.
“We wanted to give them what they wanted if we could,” Scollin said.
The village commissioned a feasibility study with the engineering firm Five Bugles Design to see if the location was sufficient for the three departments’ needs. But even in the early stages, he said, it became apparent that the answer was “no.” The space was just too small.
It’s already a tight fit for fire and emergency vehicles. One ambulance currently remains outside in the elements at nearly all times. There’s not an apron to the street, so every time firetrucks are coming out for an emergency or maintenance, drivers have to avoid pedestrians, kids on bikes and traffic.
Square footage wise, it would have been really close to make this a viable solution, Scollin said, and there was the potential they’d have to compromise the historic integrity of the firehall to make it work.
So they started looking elsewhere. Scollin said Citizen Advocates reached out to the village to offer a sale.
Change for Citizen Advocates
Riccio said the way Citizen Advocates offers services has changed over time, reducing their use of the building.
“Over the years, the preferences of individuals Citizen Advocates supports have shifted from site-based services to services received in the community or comfort of their own homes,” according to a Citizen Advocates press release.
At one time, 120 people were getting services at the Pius X building. That number has “decreased significantly” over time and that decline was accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic, Riccio said. He said as they were using the building less, they started rethinking how they deliver services.
A smaller site for day habilitation that is not currently in use will remain the property of Citizen Advocates. Riccio said they may use this in the future, after the sale, if the need is there.
Ricco said it is valuable to have village emergency services right next to their outpatient mental health and addiction clinic.
Scollin said the village’s feasibility study shifted its attention to the Petrova Avenue location in recent months and “at first glance, it was way more feasible.” The Petrova Avenue location has 13 acres versus the 0.59 acres at the Broadway location.
“It was night and day in terms of the flexibility it affords,” Scollin said. “There’s 30,000 square feet of structure there right now with good bones.”
He said the former high school building is not nearly as old as the firehall, so the would not have to “start from scratch.”
Scollin said that having the trucks exiting the firehall driveway near the busy intersection of Broadway and Bloomingdale Avenue was “dangerous.” That area will be getting even busier with the expected upcoming construction of the Saranac Lofts apartment complex and PlayADK children’s museum, too.
Last spring, the former village board purchased a 0.40 acre parcel of land behind the current firehall for $165,000. Now, Scollin said they will have to figure out what to do with this parcel and the firehall parcel.
The whole property is in a very desirable location, he said, so he’s sure it will be put to use. The village board has not discussed if it will hold onto the Broadway property or sell it in the future, he said. He said they spent around $5,000 to get a historic preservation study from Landmark Consulting in Albany on preserving historical architecture there.
Currently, the village is using its new parcel for a temporary structure to protect the police and fire departments’ boats in the winter.
Excitement from village, Citizen Advocates
Village Mayor Jimmy Williams called the village’s purchase of the Petrova Avenue property a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
“This land acquisition is not a ‘want’ for our community, it is a ‘need,'” he said in a statement. “With urgent infrastructural challenges confronting all three of our emergency services entities, this site offers something rarely possible — a one-hundred-year solution.”
Citizen Advocates President and CEO James Button said CA has had a “strong partnership” with the village. Two years ago, Citizen Advocates entered into an agreement with the village for a pilot Counselor and Law Enforcement Partnership, which embeds crisis clinicians within the village police department to attend to certain calls after police officers.
“While this sale represents an end of an era for Citizen Advocates, it is the start of an exciting new chapter that builds on Saranac Lake’s legacy of health and healing,” Button said in a statement.
SLVFD Chief Brendan Keough said his members are “extremely excited” after years of searching for a new home.
“This site preserves the history of our existing fire station, eliminates the need to relocate our fire apparatus during construction, provides the space for much needed training facilities and strengthens our efforts to recruit and retain the next generation of volunteer firefighters,” he said in a statement.
Saranac Lake Volunteer Rescue Squad Chief Ryan Siddell said SLVRS serves “one of the largest geographical rescue districts in the state of New York.”
“In life-or-death emergencies, every second counts,” he said in a statement. “This building site will afford us the space we need to continue responding quickly and efficiently to the thousands of calls we receive each year.”
SLPD Chief Darin Perrotte called the plan transformative.
“A state-of-the-art, co-located facility will enhance interdepartmental collaboration and information sharing, augmenting our ability to protect and serve, both now and well into the future,” he said in a statement.
Scollin likes that this location is between two of the major local schools, and close to St. Bernard’s School.
What about the Hhott House?
The Hhott House Greenhouse has operated from this location since 1978.
“It is a supported employment program for individuals supported by Citizen Advocates where plants, gardening and growing supplies are sold to the public,” a Citizen Advocates press release reads.
This in-house business allows the organization to offer employment directly to its clients, but it has been used less over time, Riccio said. He said over the years Citizen Advocates has expanded its employment training program beyond the Hhott House by partnering with over 50 North Country businesses to offer training and employment in a variety of industries, meaning it relied on its in-house employment less.
Riccio said Citizen Advocates will retain the name of the business but that it is “premature” to determine what they will do with it. He deferred plans for the greenhouse to the village, since it is on the land the village is purchasing.
Scollin said if the village can help preserve this business, at this location or another, he’d like to.
“People love it, and with good reason,” he said.
Last year, the former village board approved a $2.5 million reserve fund set aside for the emergency services building. So far, Scollin said they have spent $165,000 on the land behind the firehall, between $35,000 and $40,000 for the feasibility study and less than $5,000 for the historical study.
The purchase price of this Petrova Avenue property has not been made available yet. Scollin said he felt like it is a “fair” price and the village’s consultants felt “positive” about the price per square foot.
According to the Franklin County tax map, the total property was assessed at a value of $5,568,500 in 2022 and a full market value of $6,629,167.
The village board will vote on if it will approve the purchase at a board meeting on Feb. 13. Scollin said the board has been discussing the potential purchase price in recent executive sessions, but has not voted to take any action on it yet.
Scollin said people within the village’s emergency services departments have been thinking about new buildings, co-locating and a new training facility for a long time — decades, even. He pointed out that two years ago the SLVFD and several other departments from the region did air consumption trainings by playing dodgeball in full firefighting gear at the St. Pius X gymnasium.
A village development board public hearing on subdividing the land will be on Feb. 7 at 5 p.m.
Scollin said there’s still lots to do — the new feasibility study, environmental review and approval for a new access road. There are EPA wetlands on property, according to the Franklin County tax map.
The project includes the proposed construction of an access road via state Route 3 to minimize traffic in the residential areas surrounding the property.