Voters, by a nearly two-to-one margin on Tuesday, approved the demolition of the Westhampton Beach firehouse and a plan to replace it with a new $15.7 million facility.
Fire district commissioners and others who were eagerly awaiting the counting of the ballots at the Sunset Avenue firehouse applauded when the final tally was announced at around 9:20 p.m. The measure was approved 286-156, according to fire district officials.
A total of 442 residents—or approximately 10 percent of the estimated 4,000 registered voters in the Westhampton Beach Fire District—cast ballots on Tuesday. The district encompasses Westhampton Beach, Westhampton and Quiogue.
“I’m glad it finally happened,” Fire Commissioner Fred Overton said.
He added that the next step is for the architects to begin drawing up the plans for the new firehouse, which will be double the size of the current one, though he added that he does not expect construction to begin until next spring.
District officials also have not yet decided on a location for a temporary headquarters while the new facility is being built, a process that is expected to take approximately 18 months.
The current 12,300-square-foot firehouse dates back 59 years, and commissioners have said the building does not provide enough space to store the district’s trucks and emergency vehicles. There are cracks in the concrete floors, they said, and the facility lacks a proper ventilation system, creating potentially hazardous conditions for volunteers.
The approved plans call for the construction of a 27,000-square-foot, two-story facility at the site of the current firehouse, the cost of which would be covered by a 20-year bond. The new building would feature a total of 11 bays with a clearance height of 14 feet, enough space to house the entire fleet of emergency response vehicles, as well as a basement to make space for the department’s 110 volunteers. The department’s computers, as well as its alarm tower and telephone systems, will also be upgraded.
Officials said they expect the project to raise the fire district tax rate from 32 cents to 47 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation. A resident whose home is assessed at $600,000 can expect to pay about $282 in fire district taxes each year, or $90 more than they do now.
Fire Department Chief John “Chip” Bancroft said he was pleased with the result, adding that he is looking forward to using the new structure once it is completed.
“I can’t say enough for the effort that they put forward and the due diligence that they did,” he said, thanking the fire commissioners. “It had to be done.”
District officials said they opted to have residents vote the old-fashioned way—with paper ballots—rather than using the Suffolk County Board of Elections voting machines, because it saved them money. Instead, the district hired three individuals, Irene Barrow, Katey Moran and Tom Betjemann, who are certified by the Suffolk County Board of Elections, to tally the ballots at the firehouse shortly after 9 p.m. Tuesday.
“These guys are great. They do one heck of a job,” Joel Stolowitz, a Westhampton resident, said of the firefighters after voting in favor of the proposal on Tuesday. “They are hard workers and they are very dedicated.”