NORWALK, Conn. – The Volk Fire Station has been turned into a pile of rubble. It is a project that is welcome and on schedule, according to Norwalk Fire Department Deputy Chief Edward Prescott.
Although most city officials are happy with the plan to replace the old Connecticut Avenue firehouse with a new multipurpose facility, Democratic Common Councilman Matt Miklave calls it an example of government waste. He sees the new station as evidence of Norwalk's "Old Boy Network" power structure, a style of governing that needs to change.
At Tuesday night's labor rally for the city's sanitation workers, Miklave spoke of "shared sacrifice," saying the administration wants to close the Norwalk Museum and make the Board of Education slash its proposed budget "so they can spend $16 million on a fire station that, quite frankly, I think is going to be a monstrosity, a Taj Mahal."
At Monday night's Democratic Town Committee meeting, Miklave called it the "fire station that we can't afford." The $16.1 million price tag "doesn't decrease response time for emergency vehicles by one second, doesn't put one more emergency vehicle on the city streets and doesn't put one more firefighter or one police officer to improve public health and safety." It features 800 square feet of office space per executive on the third floor, he said.
Miklave voted for the new station at the Dec. 13 meeting, the second meeting after November's election. He said he had concerns but voted in favor of the plan because new councils have a tradition of carrying through with the big projects of previous councils.
Other newly elected Democrats were in favor. Councilman David Watts said the project was amazing, and he could not believe the conditions at the Volk Station, built in 1963. Warren Pena said the fire department deserved a new station, and Bruce Kimmel was impressed with the plans for the complex piece of property.
Asked about Miklave's comments, Chief Denis McCarthy said the $16.1 million encompasses the entire project. That includes the new fire headquarters, a new data center for the city and the Board of Education, an addition to the Westport Avenue Station, temporary office space for fire department administrators and a temporary fire station at 100 Fairfield Ave. The city's share is $15.1 million. A $1 million grant will pay for a state-of-the-art emergency operations center to be built in the new fire headquarters.
Bids for the headquarters portion of the project stand at $14.8 million. The third floor space is 4,284 square feet, which, if divided by the 14 full-time occupants, is 305 square feet per person, he said. The space also includes a lobby, a reception area, a spare office, a large and a small conference room, and various storage spaces.
The data center will house the city's computer servers, and all of the city and Board of Education computers will connect through it. "That was a cheaper option that trying to retrofit and bring the existing City Hall facility up to code," McCarthy said. "It's a brand new facility, has all of the code-required protection and they'll spend $900,000 on it."
McCarthy and Prescott are proud of the energy-efficient materials that will be used in the new station. McCarthy said the goal is to become LEEDS certified "because it will reduce the cost of running the building over the long term."
"A good majority of the department has been involved with the designing of the station that will last us 50 years or more in the future," Prescott said. "We went to other stations, looked at what was right, what was wrong."
Firefighters have designed a space that will be user friendly, down to warehouse doors that will be easy for people wearing a lot of gear to use.
"It's been a good project," he said. "It seems to be on budget. They're watching numbers closely, but it seems to be on track."