After hiring an architect in October, the Setauket Fire District has reconvened its Community Building Committee and has begun exploring whether the Main Street firehouse should be renovated or rebuilt so it can better meet the needs of the community.
Last week it began what will be a series of monthly meetings; the next will be held on March 28 at 7 p.m. at the Hulse Road facility. The fire district has also set up an email address – HQBuilding@setauketfd.com – to collect input.
"This would be the email address that anyone from the community could feel free to send an email to with questions, comments, or concerns regarding our project for a remodel/rebuild of our HQ," fire district manager Dave Sterne said in an email to Patch.
H2M architect Dan Tanzi said the more input the community has, the better the outcome will be. "It’s your community," he said. "We’re going to get the style that you’re going to be happy with. The building has to be appropriate to the community."
Prior attempts to build a new firehouse or renovate the existing one flopped. The Setauket Fire District twice floated bonds for the construction of a new fire house on Main Street: one in 2005 and one in 2009, both of which failed. Commissioners have said in the past the project was the victim of the district's own poor communication.
"We haven’t put any pens to paper," Tanzi said. "Knowing that there have been previous attempts at bond projects, we want to get as much input from the community as possible. We can blend that with the needs of the fire side of this to give them a functional building."
Among the problems facing the project: the dimensions of the fire district property and the busy intersection where it sits will create the biggest challenge, Tanzi said. Corner to corner, he said, there's a 27-foot grade change.
One resident at the Feb. 28 committee meeting suggested the fire district acquire the Detmer farm property on the south side of Route 25A near the East Setauket post office – an option that has been debated in the past. However, commissioner Kevin Yoos said the property's $2.5 million price tag, combined with the fact that Suffolk County is exploring the acquisition of that property, makes it unlikely that the fire district will be able to do so.
Others expressed concerns about the building not only fitting in with the community, but also with appropriately planning the building so that fire department response times are maintained and so that it will remain functional over the next several decades. And, of course, cost is a priority.
"The best that we can do is provide a series of alternatives, a series of price points, and a series of solutions to the project," Tanzi said. "We’re going to give as many options as is feasible."
Some who attended the meeting said they were encouraged by the fire district's open-minded and community-based approach to the project this time around.
John Cunniffe, a local architect who helped the Fire District develop its RFP, said the project requires "a high level of building diagramming."
"At the moment, the last meeting was encouraging, in that the SFD and their architect H2M seem poised to work with the community [and] seem quite aware of the site challenges," Cunniffe said. "I am happy to hear they are receptive to starting this project with 'basic diagram concepts' first, rather then a quick push into imaging and eyewash."
Robert Reuter, president of the Frank Melville Memorial Foundation, called the corner an important but tricky one within the community.
"I'm encouraged by the possibilities of not only upgrading and thereby saving the original firehouse, but also eliminating much of the asphalt paving that now defines the corner," he said in an email to Patch. "All agree that firematic needs are paramount in the planning of this facility upgrade, but sensitivity to site development, as well as the architecture of any additions or new building, will determine whether the project's benefits extend beyond supporting the fire department's core operations."
Bob DeZafra, the archivist for the Civic Association of the Setaukets and Stony Brook, said the meeting was well-organized and well-run.
"Everything is open for discussion and the commissioners want to try to move ahead with the community and come up with a plan that’s acceptable to everybody," DeZafra said. "I think it’s going to be perhaps a long, slow process ... but if we keep moving the way we are now, I think we’ll get to a good solution for the fire district."