Voters approved a $1.5 million expansion to the Plainsboro Fire Company firehouse during a special capital meeting held on Nov. 15.
The expansion plans call for an addition to the rear of the firehouse, which is located on Plainsboro Road, for utilities, bunk rooms, an upgraded day room and a renovation of the front entrance and sign of the fire station.
The project was approved by a 34-7 vote during the special meeting at which taxpayers had the opportunity to vote. Fire officials have said that the project will be funded through existing surplus funds and annual budget allocations and will not increase taxes.
“The building expansion reflects new space needs created by additions in our fleet over the 17 years since the current fire station was built in 1999, and what we anticipate to be changes in the makeup of our firefighting force in the future,” said Ted Wagner, chairman of the Plainsboro Board of Fire Commissioners.
Wagner said that over the years, the department has added a boat and trailer, a rescue utility trailer and a light plant to its fleet and has kept two former command vehicles in service as station cars, requiring extra storage space. The addition of a tanker to the Plainsboro fleet reduced the amount of space inside the existing structure.
“All those utility items, some of them are outside the building because there’s no space,” Wagner said. “That’s why the purpose is to build additional area to try to get those inside the building. These changes would allow us to store the smaller vehicles in our three bay addition, and make a little room so you could walk around without tripping.”
Along with the renovations at the rear, the plans include male and female bunk beds in two separate rooms. Wagner believes this addition will help with the safety and comfort of the firefighters, and subsequently increase the amount of volunteer commitment.
“When there is some sort inclement weather coming in, like snowstorms or hurricanes, we encourage volunteers to stay in the building at night,” he said. “Right now, they’re sleeping in sleeping bags or are propped up on chairs, so (in the future) they will be able to use the bunk beds.”
The plan also calls for upgrades to the day area, where volunteers and workers can relax.
The existing day room, which currently has the kitchen table and the television, will be converted into the male and female bunk rooms. The back wall will be knocked down and the area beyond made into a new day room, which will have tables, and the kitchen will be expanded, Wagner said.
“Our kitchen is very small right now, and when we have fire company meetings, we usually have refreshments after the meeting and a lot of very time there’s very limited counter space,” he said. “By enlarging that, we’re making it a little user-friendly for the volunteers.”
Wagner believes that these changes will have a positive impact on the work of the volunteers and career firefighters.
“As far as truck space, it will get the equipment outside inside. And, as for the kitchen and the new day area, it’ll just make it a little more comfortable. We’re trying to encourage volunteers to hang around the firehouse as much as possible, because then we get the trucks out quicker, but if you’re going to do that, you’re gonna spend a considerable amount of time there. You’re sitting watching TV, or music or doing some work.”
“I think in general, it’s just moving stuff around and making it a little more user-friendly for the volunteers and hopefully encourage them to remain in the building more and spend time there,” he adds.
Lastly, the plan involves upgrading the sign outside the fire station and the front entrance. “We’re looking to upgrade the front of the building, making the front look a little more aesthetic. Also, we have a sign right now where you have to go out and put the letters on, so we’re looking to upgrade that into an electronic sign. We want it to be a little more user-friendly to come into the building,” Wagner said.
A vote was necessary due to the state rules that govern Fire Districts. In towns without a fire district (like West Windsor), the municipality pays for capital improvements and purchases. When there is a fire district, those expenses need to go to a public referendum, in addition to votes on the annual fire budget, which is created by the board of commissioners.
“Anything that would be a major/capital purchase or project needs voter approval,” Wagner said. “Last year, we had to seek voter approval to buy a fire truck and self-contained breathing apparatus. Even if this is in the budget, we can’t just go out and spend it, we need voter approval to authorize the expenditure of the funds.”
According to internal estimates from late 2016 and early 2017, the projected cost of the improvements is approximately $1.1 million. The commission sought approval for up to $1.5 million to accommodate for any unexpected changes in costs, needs or plans.
The commission raises money through a local fire tax that is paid by every homeowner in the township and then budgeted by the commission. “Anything that would not be in the budget (for the changes) for this year will be from next year’s budget. We should be able to afford it, and there really is no impact on the taxes,” Wagner said.
Wagner thanked the taxpayers for supporting the expansion. He estimates that the project will break ground in early 2018 and finish by the end of next year.