Smiles were wide and handshakes hearty when the assembled elected officials placed the ceremonial shovels in the dirt and dug in to the future facility.
At the time, Roseland Properties (the developer of many of the waterfront condominiums) President Carl Goldberg said in a Reporter article, "The Weehawken and West New York developments should continue, but the firehouse is part of that development. It's important for all the communities involved. Not only does it add to the quality of life for our new residents, but it will act as a model. It's going to be in character of the entire area and we're proud of that fact."
Well, over a year has gone by and some people in the area are beginning to wonder when the firehouse will be built. As it stands (or doesn't) right now, the site of the facility is a mass of jumbled dirt and wooden stakes with safety pink flags affixed to them.
One of the people asking questions is Firefighters' Union President Glen Michelin. Said Michelin in a recent telephone interview, "Again, it's a matter of who's spending the money. They conveniently broke ground two weeks before Turner and Sires' elections.. You now have to wait for another building to be finished. Pershing Road (which leads from 48th Street and Boulevard East down the hill to River Road) is a mess." Continued Michelin, "All we asked for from the start was that the union have input on the design, but that fell on deaf ears. We don't want what happened in Edgewater five years ago to happen here."
The incident Michelin referred to is a fire at the then-unfinished Avalon Cove condominium complex in Edgewater in 1998 that wound up destroying much of the structure.
Within the past two weeks, however, actual work has begun on the site. According to West New York officials, this indicates the beginning of "phase 2" of a three-phase process that was agreed on between the designer, Paramus-based Schier-Lesser Architecture Studio and the NHRFR. The site is currently being prepared for pilings to be driven into the ground (required as the land that the facility sits on is technically a flood plain). A large red drilling machine has been delivered to the site as well.
What actually happened, according to sources, is that when the design was first agreed upon, the regionalization of the five fire departments (Union City, West New York, North Bergen, Weehawken and Guttenberg) had not yet happened. The original plan for the firehouse called for a one floor single bay firehouse to serve the River Road residents as part of the West New York Fire Department. With the advent of the NHRFR, the union called for a much-expanded design. The plan then went from the single bay design to a three-bay two-story structure complete with administrative offices and a training facility. The plans had to be redrawn, effectively bringing everything "back to the drawing board" as it were.
In a recent telephone interview, Roseland Properties President Carl Goldberg explained the chronology of what has actually gone on. "What happened was that when the regionalization occurred, the needs changed," said Goldberg. "We were asked to change the plans to be commensurate with the regionalization. We were trying to do the right thing. Short-term, yes, there was a delay, but it the long-term, the area will be well-served by this expanded facility."
NHRFR Director Jeff Welz commented last week on the project. Said Welz, "The developer has started to do the work. I'd say the project will be completed no later than April of 2004. That depends on the weather, of course. I have a schedule for the project and the whole idea is to have the whole building enclosed by December so they can work through the winter and have the building done by April of 2004."
Weehawken Mayor and NHRFR Management Committee member Richard Turner was somewhat incredulous last week when a fusillade of questions sprang up about the delay in construction of the facility.
Said Turner, "The union and management staff really wanted the second story and that, of course, changed the plans. When the firehouse was approved by the West New York board, it was still the West New York Fire Department, and then regionalization occurred and we had to go back to the developer and they agreed to expand the facility from one bay to three bays at their own expense. Then discussions began to add a second story and again, the developer agreed to add the second story at their expense, provided the NHRFR does the interior work. That's a major accomplishment to have a developer absorb the cost like that."
As for the safety of the residents of the waterfront condominiums, Turner was effusive in his assuredness of their safety. When asked if the residents were in danger, Turner replied, "Absolutely not. First of all, every building on the waterfront is fully sprinkled. These people are not in danger. Down there, you have modern construction, modern building techniques, you have the safest buildings."
Added Turner, "Everything is within a three to four minute response time. Those reports of it taking fire trucks 12-13 minutes to get down there are nonsense. We have a facility at 46th and Park Avenue, which is two blocks away. That facility has a ladder truck and a rescue unit. Then you have a facility at 19th and Park Avenue in Weehawken. That has a pumper truck. The farthest one is at 50th and Broadway. That one is six or seven blocks away, granted, but even that one is no more than 4 minutes away. Everyone down there is safe."
So while there have been significant delays in the construction of the facility, it has not become a "forgotten project." Reiterated Roseland Properties President Carl Goldberg, "Our intent and desire is to complete this facility as quickly and reasonably as possible."