Three years after voters in the Wallkill Fire District gave their long-anticipated approval, the new Wallkill Fire House is about to become a reality.
Construction on the $7.1 million facility is near completion. The Wallkill Fire Department is expected to be operating out of the 17,500 square-foot complex by the end of March.
It was March 24, 2019 that voters approved a referendum to borrow more than $5.5 million for the project, with the fire district contributing $1.5 million from its reserve funds. Approval came after an extensive campaign spearheaded by Fire Commissioner Michael Croce to convince residents that it would result in only a slight tax increase of $1.65 per thousand of assessed valuation. Croce and the other commissioners made the rounds, visiting with various community organizations, as well as the town board and school board meetings, in search of support. The project was long in the works as fire commissioners sought to replace the aging firehouse on Central Avenue, next to Shawangunk Town Hall.
“It was probably close to 18-20 years from the first time this started,” Croce said in a 2019 interview. “This present board has been working on it for maybe two years. So this is good news.”
Ground was broken in August 2020 for the new building, across from the Borden Middle School.
While the old building, which dates back to 1964 is not energy efficient, the new one is state-of-the-art with many modern amenities, according to Fire Commissioner Andy Harcher, who offered an impromptu tour of the facility on Sunday.
“We wanted to build smart,” Harcher said. “We didn’t want to just throw up a building.”
Smart includes two 500,000 BTU computerized boilers that will alternate between primary and backup, lights that are controlled by motion sensors, a recirculating hot water system and an automatic sprinkler system. There’s also an elevator and a generator, financed in large part by a $50,000 state grant from former State Senator Jen Metzger that will keep the building in full operation in the event of an emergency.
The top floor includes a storage area and a window that allows firefighters to practice the bailout system that is utilized for escaping a fire when standard methods of departure – via stairs, elevator, or a ladder – are not possible. The system allows firefighters to bail out of, for example, multi-story residences, apartment complexes, or office buildings, through an unconventional means of exit, such as through a window, using three primary components: the hook, the rope or cord, and the descender.
The basement floor, which has its own entrance, includes a 150-seat social hall with a radiant heat floor, a food pantry for storage and a commercial kitchen that will come in handy for the monthly pancake breakfasts, Bingo nights and for catered events. The first floor will also have a tenant: the Ulster County Sheriff’s Department, which currently rents space at the Wallkill School District Headquarters, will be moving their substation to the new firehouse. The fire district sees the sheriff’s presence as a win-win, offering rental income, and the peace of mind of having someone in the building, when the volunteers aren’t there.
The building, designed by architect Peter Cirillo of Middletown, gives a nod to Wallkill’s past. The property on which the building is located, was once part of the historic Borden estate.
“They didn’t want someone to build a flat roof truck garage on the Borden estate,” Harcher said.
As the project nears completion, the commissioners continue their weekly meetings with General Contractor Barone Construction of Highland. They will review a punch list before they begin moving from Central Avenue.