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Published: Wednesday, 11/9/2005

Bedford Township: 2 fire stations called inadequate


TEMPERANCE - A long-awaited architect's report on Bedford Township's two oldest fire stations finds that they are too small, too far out of code, and in many ways inadequate for the job that they are required to do.

But don't look for township officials to trip all over themselves to fix the problems anytime soon, because the same architect concluded that the best way to deal with the deficiencies would be to tear down the stations and build a pair of new ones.

Monroe architect John Kohler was hired more than a year ago to study Bedford Township's fire stations by the previous township board. His report - which has been largely completed for almost six months but delayed by the decision to change the location of the new Station 56 along Lewis Avenue - was finally delivered last week to the township board by Mr. Kohler's son, Mark.

Its conclusions about the decades-old stations in Temperance and Lambertville:

●The Temperance station suffers from inadequate and aging wiring, narrow bays that limit the size of equipment that the township can purchase, an old roof, poor parking, and horrible energy-efficiency issues. Mr. Kohler estimated the cost of fixing the 11,000 square-foot station at $1.4 million, and estimated the cost of building a larger, modern 13,600 square-foot station on the same site at $1.7 million.

●The Lambertville station suffers from deficient parking, deteriorating masonry that needs repairs, small bays with doors that are too short, a lack of a decontamination area and adequate restroom-shower facilities, and kitchen and meeting areas that do not meet basic construction and safety codes. Mr. Kohler estimated that the township would have to expend more than $1.8 million to fix the 16,000-square-foot station in Lambertville, or about $2.4 million to replace it with a larger, modern facility nearby.

In both instances, the younger Mr. Kohler said the township would be better advised to spend the extra money and build new, rather than trying to retrofit an aging building.

Mr. Kohler did credit the township and fire officials for "foresight" in their decisions to secure land adjacent to both the Lambertville and the Temperance stations for future expansion.

In recent years, the township purchased an adjacent home and lot to the Lambertville Station and signed a "right of first refusal" with the owner of a home next door to the station in Temperance that would allow the township to buy if the owner opts to sell.

Township Fire Chief John Bofia said that while the Kohlers' $30,000 report was an important way to get an inventory of the state of the township's fire stations, the numbers cited aren't financially realistic, even for a community growing as fast as Bedford.

"We don't look at [building new stations of that size] as things that we have to do. We would want to build our stations more efficiently and less sprawling than what they've envisioned, I think," Chief Bofia said.

Department and township officials have recognized that some of the structural deficiencies will have to be dealt with before long, but even those are several years away, the chief said.

"It's not really an economic reality right now that we could spend that kind of money to upgrade those stations. We have too much going on," Chief Bofia said, adding that some of the more dangerous deficiencies Mr. Kohler identified - like a second floor meeting room above the kitchen in the Lambertville station - can be dealt with in other ways, like moving meetings to the community room in the library.

Chief Bofia did say, however, that whenever the township is able to fix up the buildings or build new fire stations, it should plan for the contingency of a full-time paid fire department.

"We want to keep this department volunteer as long as we absolutely can, because that's the way to get the best for our community right now. But anything we design from this point forward should include rooms that could be eventually converted into living quarters. That just makes sense long term," the Chief said.

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