Village to close question period on emergency services complex

Public hearing promised soon, as plan remains controversial

SARANAC LAKE — The village of Saranac Lake will accept questions from the public for another week-and-a-half on an emergency services complex it is planning to build at the former St. Pius X High School building at 33 Petrova Ave.

After Feb. 26, it will schedule another public forum on the project — which has been controversial with neighbors and some village residents — at a later date.

A group of neighbors who live near the proposed site, other community members and at least one member of the village board feel the village could fit the joint building for the village Police Department, Saranac Lake Volunteer Rescue Squad and Saranac Lake Volunteer Fire Department — or at least the fire and rescue squads — in their existing location at 100 Broadway. The rest of the board, the project engineers and the fire chief disagree and see moving to 33 Petrova as their only option. This disagreement has been at an impasse for months, and members of the public still feel their questions have not been answered.

The village plans to schedule another public conversation on the project with Wendel Five Bugles Design Program Manager Rob Krzyzanowski. The last major discussion was held around a year ago. Ever since, a contingent of neighbors have attended nearly every village board meeting to ask questions about the project and oppose the building plans.

After collecting questions from the public since November, the public question period will close on Feb. 26. To submit questions by then, email clerk@saranaclakeny.gov or send mail to mail Village Clerk / 39 Main St., Suite 9 / Saranac Lake, NY 12983. Village Clerk Amanda Hopf said so far she has received one question for Wendel and nine for the board.

Mayor Jimmy Williams said the village will schedule the forum when they have clear answers and are ready. But people critical of the project are itching for a large public forum.

The village signed a contract to purchase the 15.089-acre parcel containing the former St. Pius X High School from Citizen Advocates for $350,000 on Dec. 14.

Two years ago, the former village board approved a $2.5 million reserve fund set aside for the emergency services building. So far, the village has spent $165,000 on additional land behind the firehall, $40,000 for the feasibility study and less than $5,000 for a historical study. With the $350,000 purchase of the Petrova Avenue land, the village has spent just under a quarter of that fund.

Public comment

At Monday’s meeting, neighbors made appeals to logic and nostalgia to the board.

Ben Douglass, an engineer, provided a conceptual site plan for 100 Broadway he drew up himself. He thinks the village is dismissing this potential solution too fast. He’s not convinced by Wendel’s decision and believes the site is workable and not a “dead end.”

This plan would involve demolishing apartments behind the firehall, which he said is not ideal, but would allow for a separate garage for the vehicle fleet.

Saranac Lake resident Tamara Van Ryan said she believes more research needs to be done on what the departments really need, where the money for the project is coming from, how much it will cost taxpayers and its impact on the environment.

“At this point there seems to be an impasse without a larger community conversation,” Van Ryan said.

Saranac Lake resident Mark Wilson said the history of the building is important but he feels it is being forgotten. He suggested they use the firehall as an office and museum and build a new building behind it.

“Keep that history up front,” Wilson said.

He said it could help with recruitment.

Resolution to study 100 Broadway tabled

Wendel and the village public safety building committee have both said 100 Broadway will not work, but Trustee Rich Shapiro said they don’t have enough data to accept that as fact. He said there were only three pages in Wendel’s 255-page report on the 33 Petrova property dedicated to the 100 Broadway property.

Shapiro feels there has not been enough of a look at just two services there instead of all three.

On Monday, Shapiro brought forward a resolution that would have the village contract with engineering firm AES Northeast to study the 100 Broadway site for $12,000.

Williams said most people he hears from are telling him this is a “waste of taxpayer money” and he felt this proposed new study was “rushed.” He also said it being put up for a vote with no communication with the emergency services building committee was “cause for alarm.”

Trustee Matt Scollin agreed.

“There’s a right way to do this and a wrong way. I think this is the wrong way,” Scollin said.

Scollin made a motion to table the resolution until after the election. Trustees Shapiro and Tom Catillaz voted no, but it passed 3-2 and was tabled.

Shapiro and Williams’ discussions devolved into argument several times.

“I would agree we need to dig into this. We’re not done by any stretch,” Scollin said. “But this is not the time, with three meetings before (almost) half the board turns over.”

Shapiro is leaving the board, along with Tom Catillaz, and there are currently five candidates running for their two open seats.

“Clearly, the five of us are not going to get through this gracefully,” Scollin added. “So let’s get two new people in here and see how it goes.”

Williams said the village commissioned a study on 100 Broadway when he started as mayor around two years ago. But before putting together a long, expensive report, Wendel engineers told village officials they would not be happy with a building at this site, even with only two departments, and even with the potential purchase of another property in the back.

So when 33 Petrova came on the market, Williams said they focused on that. He reiterated that everyone wanted 100 Broadway as the emergency services location, but it was just not feasible.

When the study came back and the public was dissatisfied with the low level of detail on 100 Broadway, Williams said they should have talked about it more.

“That could have been worked through a little bit better than it was,” Williams said.

But in the end, he said if the experts said its a “no-go,” it would be wasting money to study it more.

Williams said Wendel has agreed to study 100 Broadway after understanding a desire by the community to expand the study there. He said if people send them the type of information they want, Wendel would research it, with up to $10,000 in spending.

According to Williams, if the village doesn’t go any further with Wendel, it would pay this amount. But if it moves forward with Wendel, they could use this money as a “credit” toward engineering work at whichever site if they chose to build at.

Shapiro said the village can’t afford the 33 Petrova plan.

Williams pointed out that the feasibility study estimates Pius X as costing $27.5 million to retrofit and 100 Broadway at $43 million to retrofit.

“I don’t believe that,” Shapiro said.

They began arguing again, going back and forth, speculating and talking in circles with no resolution.

“I’d reiterate that this board can’t do this effectively, so why are we doing it?” Scollin asked.

SLVFD Chief Brenden Keough said when they were shopping around for an engineering firm, every rep they showed the site to asked if they could build anywhere else. At the time, 100 Broadway was their only option. So when 33 Petrova opened up, he felt it was an “excellent opportunity.” Keough said they probably could “squeeze” into 100 Broadway but they still couldn’t fix its apron issue.

The building has a short apron between the garage bays and the sidewalk. Keough said he’s amazed someone hasn’t been killed there, because he said people try to beat the trucks as they pull out for emergencies all the time.

Keough also said the firehall is in a developing area of downtown and they are getting hemmed in. The Play ADK children’s museum and The Lofts apartment complex will be going up behind the firehall in the coming years.

Keough was interrupted by his pager going off and had to rush out to respond to a report of a person falling through ice on a lake. Before he left, though, he said the fire department’s current location is “completely unacceptable.”

Saranac Lake resident Doug Haney said Keough made strong points, but he felt the village hasn’t looked at what is best for the village as a whole. He felt there was a danger to children walking to the nearby schools with emergency vehicles station so close. He also has been pushing for the village to consider putting workforce housing on the property.

Haney said if the village didn’t have 33 Petrova they’d be making 100 Broadway work somehow.

Williams said the 100 Broadway plan would destroy 14 apartments, and he doubts there would be a market for developers to build at 33 Petrova right now.

The fire department has been looking for a new home since 1971, and the police department building fails every inspection it gets.


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