ITHACA, N.Y. –– A study recently published by the city of Ithaca provides new insight on potential plans for a new or relocated East Hill Fire Station No.2 in the heart of Collegetown.

The study, conducted by Kingsbury Architecture and assisted by Charles R. Wilson Engineering and Griffiths Engineering, was intended to help the city of Ithaca decided whether or not it made more financial sense to renovate the existing station built in 1968, or relocate the fire station to a new site and sell off the potential lucrative inner Collegetown property. The study was conducted by Kingsbury in the summer of 2015, and handed over to the city that September.

Since that time, the study was something the city held close to its proverbial chest. In a July 2018 request for information, planner Jennifer Kusznir stated “(i)nformation from this analysis can be made available upon request,” which doesn’t exactly suggest a free floe of information. A follow-up to Kusznir and city Planning Director JoAnn Cornish requesting a copy of the 2015 report was never responded to.

With a new Request for Expressions of Interest posted, the city has finally decided to show its cards. A copy of the 108-page study was posted to the city’s website last week.

The report makes no firm recommendations but notes the opportunities that lay before the city at the time – renovation, and the possibility of building a new station on Cornell land at 120 Maple Avenue. The study included an analysis of the condition of the existing half-century old fire station, and provides conceptual drawings and cost estimates for a new station on the Cornell site.

The report did carry a number of warnings regarding the Cornell property. Along with possible soil contamination from previous railroad activities, one of the four storage buildings that would have been removed to make way for a fire station was used to store radioactive waste. Remediation and relocation of the Cornell facilities would have resulted in an uncertain time frame, and may be a factor in why the Cornell site is no longer an active consideration. The site also has weak soils that would have necessitated a special and more expensive foundation design. The costs of developing a station on the site were estimated at $7,464,000.

The report also attempted to estimate what a station would cost at a “perfect” site with no issues, utility connections available and minimal site prep required. To build something similar to the West Hill and South Hill fire stations (a 9,400 square-foot building in the study) would cost $4,236,000. Several sites are examine for feasibility based on response time, including Cornell property at 695 Dryden Road and 634 Dryden Road, 380 Pine Tree Road, and 900 Mitchell Street, the last two being less favorable in that criteria due to longer times to get to Cornell Heights and Cornell’s North Campus (and 900 Mitchell Street was redeveloped as part of Cornell’s Maplewood project two years later).

As for renovation of the fire station as-is, there were two estimates. If the city tried to divvy it up between a number of lowest-bid contractor for the electrical, plumbing, mechanical and so on, the cost was estimated at $1,412,000. For an “all-in-one” general contractor, which makes coordination easier and prevent potential issues between contractors, the cost was a little higher, $1,545,000.

As for the current state of 9,065 square-foot fire station No. 2 (it was No. 9 until the 2017 renumbering of stations), the building, which received an interior renovations in 1989 and 2002 as well as roof replacement in 2013, needs a lot of work. The HVAC system is worn out and some of the mechanical, electrical, and plumbing need to be fully replaced. The skylights are leaking and in need of replacement. The building wastes a lot of energy, being worn out and built in the late 1960s when energy efficiency was not a hot topic. But the primary issue appears to be that moisture has penetrated the exterior concrete and masonry and has reached interior ceilings and walls. The damage there, already substantial, may be worse than the report could indicate, as they didn’t penetrate walls to look at the whole wall system. In short, it’s not in terrible shape at a glance, but it’s not in good shape either.

What this all boils down to is that it helps guide the options in the RFEI. To quickly rehash, the options for respondents are 1) Build a new 11,000 sqaure foot fire station nearby and buy the site, of which the price paid would likely be adjustable given the expense of building the new station; 2) paying the renovation costs of $1.5 million+ and obtaining the air rights to add onto an adjacent property, and 3) incorporating a new fire station into a redevelopment of the site, and there are fire stations with housing over them.

Of those, option two may look a little less likely than it once did; the only site with an active developer is the old Nines site owned by Novarr and Proujansky. It was stated at the last Planning Board meeting they were dialing back on their Collegetown Innovation District due to a lukewarm response from local residents and officials, and focusing on just one of the student housing sites for now.

Armed with additional information, interested parties have a few more weeks to decide whether or not they want to put forth a proposal for the city to consider – the window for submissions closes at 3 PM on April 5th.

 

Brian Crandall

Brian Crandall reports on housing and development for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached at bcrandall@ithacavoice.com.