Wheatland Fire Department station issue stalls again

The committee that is leading an effort to bring a new fire station to the Town of Wheatland Fire Department was sent back to the drawing board again Monday by the Town Board, this time with at least two of the three board members saying they favor a much less expensive plan than what the committee has backed so far.

After a lengthy discussion between the committee and the Town Board, the committee agreed to have its next meeting in late May and then report back to the Town Board after that.

The committee is made up of representatives of Scherrer Construction, town Supervisor Kelly Wilson, Wheatland Park Department representative Brett Butler and representatives of the fire department, including Chief Lou Denko.

In late February, the committee presented plans for a 16,757-square-foot new station to be located just south of the current firehouse adjacent to New Munster Park. The new building — designed to serve the department’s needs for 50 years the committee said — would replace the current 42-year-old station and include elements the department leadership sought to bring the department’s facility up to modern standards and anticipate future needs.

A week later, the Town Board effectively sent the matter back to the committee for the first time when no board member made a motion to move forward the station as proposed.

Jim Scherrer started off the discussion Monday by asking the board for direction. He suggested a community survey at a cost of about $8,000 to $10,000 or a non-binding informational referendum might provide some sense of public sentiment toward the proper scope of a new fire station in the eyes of the public.

“We need direction,” Scherrer said. “Give us some direction and we will move forward with it.”

Scherrer said the committee had explored not finishing off parts of the station plan. That could bring the cost estimate closer to $3 million.

In giving feedback, Town Chairman Bill Glembocki and Supervisor Andrew Lois focused on drastically reducing cost of the project.

Glembocki said he might be persuaded to back a $2 to $2.5 million price tag, but many members of the public prefer less than $2 million. He suggested considering still using the current station’s four bays and adding two or three more in a new addition or adjacent building, perhaps with a courtyard between them.

Lois said he is concerned about the financial obligation to the town with the $3.76 million project financed over 20 years. His preference would be for a project cost that would be feasible to pay off in about eight years. He said he would rather build in less expensive phases as needs arise.

“I don’t think the town of Wheatland wants to stick its neck out that far,” Lois said of the $3.76 million plan.

Supervisor Wilson, who is on the committee, asked Glembocki where the $1.8 million figure he brought up came from. He replied that it just was a number that most people he talked to were comfortable with.

Wilson called for all involved to work together on the project.

“It’s something we have to work together on,” Wilson said. “We’re going back and forth. It’s a ping pong game.”

TWFD Lt. Jonathan Winter, another member of the committee, asked the board for some kind of direction.

“We’re spinning our wheels,” Winter said.

Apparently to that end, Glembocki made a motion for the committee to study a $1.8 million alternative. That motion died for a lack of a second.

Then Lois moved to have the committee study adding four bays to the current station with a maximum $2.5 million budget. That motion also died for a lack of a second.

Chief Denko suggested the committee convene in the second half of May to consider options.

“It seems like everyone in this town has input on what this station needs except the fire chief,” Denko said. “This is tearing this town apart and it is unnecessary.”

Glembocki closed the discussion saying “Bring us something and we can make a decision.”

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