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Expansion under fire

Plans to spend $5.2 million to expand a town fire hall have some residents seeing red.

Rotterdam Fire District No. 7, on Gordon Road, known as the Schonowe Volunteer Fire Co., has scheduled an Oct. 10 vote that asks for voter approval to issue $5.2 million in bonds.

The bond money will be used to renovate and expand the fire hall, which was built in 1946 and last overhauled in 1964, when it was enlarged.

Some residents, including past and present fire company volunteers, object to the scope of the project. They argue that approximately 300 homes in the fire district are served by 23 active volunteer firefighters and doubt the district needs $5 million to maintain safety.

They want to double the size of the firehouse, and we think that is too much, said Schonowe member Robert Guyette. "A lot of people feel it's too much of an expense."

Guyette has been a member of the department for 45 years; he was a fire commissioner for 35 years.

He noted that the normal budget for the fire company is less than $400,000 per year and said he has difficulty understanding why they want to borrow what amounts to 13 years worth of funding.

"They say they need more space, higher bays for more modern trucks," Guyette said, adding that their newest truck is only one or two years old. "They just want more space for offices, I guess."

Fire commissioner Peter Sylvester said the board of commissioners wants to upgrade the facility so that it is a viable fire company and useful to the community.

"We did not go out and tell architects we want a $5.2 million structure," Sylvester said. "The whole argument is on the $5.2 million, totally losing sight of what price tag is the product of skyrocketing costs for building materials during the past three years. He said board members have been talking about the project and discussing their plan with other districts about lessons they learned while undergoing similar expansions.

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