We're glad to see real progress made on establishing a new fire hall, police station and rescue squad headquarters in Tupper Lake.
Using a highly organized, methodical and seemingly fair process, a committee reviewed numerous options and gave its highest scores to a combined building for all three emergency services, located at one of two spots on Santa Clara Avenue. The process gives that recommendation great credibility.
For this process, the community can thank Sean Foran, a consultant from Syracuse-based firm Hueber-Breuer. He seems to be earning the $24,800 the village of Tupper Lake is paying him to figure out what the realistic options were and which won't work. This is difficult work that's lagged for many years; as in many cases, it takes an outside professional to sort out differences of opinion within the community.
These services have been in serious need of upgraded facilities for a long time. The current fire hall on High Street has a number of problems, including that it isn't accessible to people with handicaps, its bays are so narrow it's dangerous to pull trucks in and out, and the front facade of the building has separated from the structure. The existing police station, in the lower level of the village offices on Park Street, also has no access for people with handicaps, it floods frequently, and the evidence facilities are inadequate, among other problems.
While it's good to see real movement on improving them, there's still a long way to go, and many players that haven't weighed in yet. The rescue squad membership had previously decided to go it alone on raising funds to upgrade their facility, figuring they couldn't wait on the fire and police processes. Now, with all this extra data, the rescue squad may reconsider.
Also, there's the matter of the price tag. If a new building is publicly funded, it will be put to the voters in a public referendum. The community knows it needs it, but what's the upper cost limit?
Keene's new firehouse, which Hueber-Breuer was involved in, is expected to cost $2.3 million. Keene has 500 people, and this facility is for the fire department only - not for police or an ambulance squad. Tupper Lake's three emergency services departments serve a townwide population of about 6,000, plus maybe 650 more for Piercefield and Santa Clara, and those departments have a lot of vehicles, equipment and specialized needs.
That last word, "needs," is the key here. Tupper Lakers know they need new facilities like this so these departments can keep people safe. As the design process goes forward, it should focus on filling these departments' needs, present and projected, and be wary of expensive add-ons that aren't needed. Yes, this will be one of the community's most important buildings and should reflect that, but we should remember that municipalities all over the country are saddled with debt from Taj Mahal-type public buildings that were grander than the taxpayers could afford.
So with that caution, we say good job, and keep up the momentum.