Norwalk Councilman Calls Fire House a Monstrosity

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At left, Councilman Matt Miklave attends Tuesday's labor rally in Norwalk. At right, a pile of debris is what is left of the Volk Fire Station on the same day.
At left, Councilman Matt Miklave attends Tuesday's labor rally in Norwalk. At right, a pile of debris is what is left of the Volk Fire Station on the same day. Photo Credit: Nancy Guenther Chapman
This is the Volk Fire Station in Norwalk as it looks on March 8.
This is the Volk Fire Station in Norwalk as it looks on March 8. Photo Credit: Nancy Guenther Chapman
A glimpse of life in the old Volk Fire Station is revealed on March 6.
A glimpse of life in the old Volk Fire Station is revealed on March 6. Photo Credit: Nancy Guenther Chapman
The interior of a front wall of the old Volk Fire Station is exposed March 6.
The interior of a front wall of the old Volk Fire Station is exposed March 6. Photo Credit: Nancy Guenther Chapman
The station is destroyed on March 13.
The station is destroyed on March 13. Photo Credit: Nancy Guenther Chapman
Work proceeds on March 12.
Work proceeds on March 12. Photo Credit: Nancy Guenther Chapman
Work proceeds on March 8.
Work proceeds on March 8. Photo Credit: Nancy Guenther Chapman
The old fire headquarters in Norwalk is turned to a pile of bricks on Tuesday.
The old fire headquarters in Norwalk is turned to a pile of bricks on Tuesday. Photo Credit: Nancy Guenther Chapman

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."

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Comments (13)

These costs would be reduced for the majority of Norwalkers if Rowayton was required to support these expenses, regardless of whether or not they have a volunteer fire dept. Good thing they don't have a volunteer police force as well.

The councilman got this one correct; those in the fire department are provided hefty salaries and benefits along with a sweet pension - to do a job that the majority of communities in this country have done on a volunteer-basis. Apparenly, that's not enough.

A new fire station was long overdue. Too often politicians jump in and try to score political points off of issues that should be viewed under the lens of operational efficiency. A state of the art data center is long overdue as well, and the reasoning behind moving a data center from City Hall to a new building is reasonable. There are two issues which no one has addressed though.

A data center investment is a grand idea, however what data in fact does the City of Norwalk actually maintain? There's an old IT philosophy that is called GIGO (Garbage In, Garbage Out) that certainly applies to the lack of investment in IT personnel and infrastructure.

The more germane issue though is the lack of water capacity for all the recent development along Main Ave. and the northern parts of Norwalk. This issue came up during the approval process of the the Hewitt Buildings and I haven't seen it resurface in any of these fire station discussions. Response times are one thing, but getting there only to be out of water is the more serious issue.

This is an incredibly unfortunate statement. This is a capital project to build a replacement for the Volk Fire Station which lasted for almost 50 years... The fact that our firemen deserve a reasonable working environment, which Volk was not in its final years, is indisputable. I disagree with Mr. Miklave's assertion that this project will not impact the responsiveness of the fire department. I think the facts speak for themselves here and to somehow invoke the phrase "old boy's network" in reference to a reasonable project brought through the proper channels is disrespectful to our firefighters as well as to those of us who played a small part in its approval.

So true this is a waste of money just like the hotel that was built for the police.

I am a Proud 14 year veteran of the CIty Norwalk Fire Department and Captain who spent many, many years working in the Volk Fire Station. I speak for all of our members when I say that the new firehouse project is long overdue and will serve the city very well for a long, long time. I applaud Chief McCarthy and the members of our department who served on the building committee for designing a state of the art facility for us to learn, live, train, educate, and from which to respond to the needs of the citizens of our city. I cannot tell you how many times I was asked by people passing by the old firehouse or visiting it for a tour why we are still using the building. We kept it clean, we lived in it, but cleaning only can go so far. The building had antiquated utilities, a leaking roof, floor drains that backed up into the apparatus garage (often sewage), mold in the walls and basement, cracking walls, floors and ceilings, inefficient windows, and many other issues that we just dealt with and moved on because we knew why we were there, to protect lives at any cost.

Mr. Miklave commented about how it will not add to the safety of the public. That was an enormously erroneous statement. He left a very distinct and unique aspect of the new station out of his list of reasons why he feels the firehouse is a waste of money.

Allow me to elaborate: Within the walls of the new station, there will be a state of the art training wall composing the center of the building and will stand two floors. This training wall will be made up of training props that are actual building fronts where firefighters can train on the most current methods of forcible entry, ladder rescue and rope training, including emergency bail-out procedures, victim rescue from upper floors with ground ladders.

The building will have functional areas where firefighters can effectively and properly clean and dry their protective equipment so that we do not bring those contaminants into a home or a place of business when responding to a routine emergency. The building will have an appropriate and safe area where we can put our (already owned) fitness equipment so firefighters can work out to stay fit for the task of protecting the public. The building will also have a state of the art classroom where we can learn the newest methods of firefighting and rescue work in a clean and comfortable atmosphere with emerging technology.

So, in summary, this new facility is not a waste of taxpayer dollars. The return on their investment simply cannot be put into dollar amounts. There are so many intangibles that this facility will provide for all of us. Not one taxpayer in the city should feel that this project is extreme. It is necessary, appropriate and long overdue. I look forward to the day where we can invite the entire common council in to the new facility and thank them for supporting this project as well as opening our doors to the public to help educate them on what we continue to do to protect them.

Thank You.

Respectfully,
Captain Joseph V. Coppola
City of Norwalk Fire Department

Maybe he really voted for the new fire station before criticizing it because his Union boss overlords were in favor of the construction because it would create Union jobs. Or maybe he didn't want to alienate the Firefighters Union. In any case, Miklave voted for it and then turned around and criticized it as a monstrosity. If it was such a wasteful monstrosity, why vote for it in the first place? More pandering and bloviating.

The old station, and the new one, are on unstable soil and will require support better designed for unstable soil conditions. The usual approach requires driving pilings deep into the ground to carry the weight of the building without moving. The old station had suffered enough movement because the underlying pilings were insufficient to make renovation impractical. Cracks in the equipment floors happened when the old building was new. Hopefully, the engineering and installation of the pilings will be be better done this time.
Replacing the building was, unfortunately, necessary. If replacing it on the same site was the best decision, remains to be seen. There are many of us who think another small station in the north end of the City would be a good idea, but that is another issue. There are many advocates for a shared firehouse serving Norwalk, Westport, and Wilton, if the politicians of the three towns could ever work out a reasonable cost sharing arrangement.

Here is what I do not get. You (Lwitherspoon) judge Miklave for speaking out (and maybe this is a bit aggressive on his part) but you are also the one who judged the council members on their education budget recently. You wanted to know why taxes had to go up for education, think about it at this point, right??

In direct relation is this issue is a 16 mill price tag. Why not try and make it 5-10 million for a new facility and not this much. Lets add more trucks, more cops, and basically use that money somewhere else (education...anything).

In almost every other town and city, when a new firehouse goes up (or police station) response time gets cut down and more vehicles are added. NOT in this case, and Miklave is right.
And by the way, Geak, this project is a huge chunk of money, so for you to imply that the councilman should ignore it and move on to other things, is childish and just another reason your mitt romney like approach to politics is wrong (change your name to norwalkflipflopper plz). yes we need a new firehouse, but does it have to be this extensive and this costly, while not reducing response time?? I remember when I was in middle school too. But youre supposed to be a leader. In a city. In the 6th largest in CT. Get it together. Just because he is a dem does not mean you should be resenting him. Miklave's resume is one of the most extensive in the council. Hes a strong voice. The (Geak06853) is a weak voice with a small resume. Glad he changed.

Not to put too fine a point on it, mrichard, but you are making a huge false assumption.

1.) And by the way, Geak, this project is a huge chunk of money, so for you to imply that the councilman should ignore it and move on to other things, is childish and just another reason your mitt romney like approach to politics is wrong (change your name to norwalkflipflopper plz).

Regarding "Geek05853" - The zip code is for Rowayton, which is a different district than South Norwalk, a.k.a. Ward B. Secondly, when Mike Geake posts replies online, he uses his name. So the fact that someone in Rowayton has chosen to use a word that sounds like Mr. Geake's name does not mean it is in fact Mr. Geake.

And regarding Mr. Miklave - Just because he is a dem does not mean you should be resenting him. Miklave's resume is one of the most extensive in the council. Hes a strong voice. The (Geak06853) is a weak voice with a small resume. Glad he changed.

You can be glad Mr. Geake changed parties. Quite truthfully, I'm glad Mr. Geake changed parties. But I can tell you from first hand observation, Mr. Miklave loves to grand stand. He's a drama queen with a bull horn, that's all.

mrichard

If Miklave wants to criticize the spending as wasteful, and propose a reasonable alternative which costs far less, I applaud him. I take issue with voting FOR the spending, and then turning around and criticizing the project after the fact. If it was such a wasteful monstrosity, why vote for it in the first place?

You'll notice that in prior posts I never said that I supported the spending, in fact I asked in a prior post how the project was financed, and what the cost would have been to remodel the existing station. My guess is that they are using a bond that will be paid off over the useful life of the new station, so that the taxpayers don't have to pay the entire cost of the station up front. I think this is the case because the proposed budget doesn't show increased spending due to construction of a new fire station. The increased spending is due to raises for police and firefighters, and increased benefit costs for teachers, firefighters, police, and city employees. You can see this in the proposed budget which is posted on the City website.

Really? Out of all the over spending that happens in this city, this project is what he decides to speak out against? I have spent multiple nights and early mornings in this firehouse during Mutual Aid calls and quite frankly I am surprised it didn't fall on its own years ago. This is supposed to be Norwalk Fire HQ, and it was looking more like a WW2 scene. I am glad it is being rebuilt, and it is great to see that thought has been put into making it a multipurpose facility as well as considering the future costs of maintenance. Kudos to all involved in the planning and I am looking forward to seeing the new structure. Miklave, get a clue!

I'm inclined to support anybody who is speaking out against government waste, but Miklave has demonstrated himself to be such a pandering bloviator that in this case it's difficult on account of the fact that there must be some ulterior motive. Nice to know that Miklave voted for the station before he was against it. Maybe he should wear flip flops to the next council meeting.

Would be interested to know what would the cost have been to remodel the existing structure, what were the operating costs for the old building vs. the new building, and how the project is being financed.