SOUTH ORANGE, NJ – The development company that tore down the South Orange Rescue Squad building to make way for a retail-apartment complex paid the squad $1.1 million, but it’s not enough to erect a new building.
Squad Capt. Dan Cohen said the squad must raise additional funds and will appeal to the public for help through donations, fundraising efforts and volunteering. Bunny’s Sports Bar is hosting a fundraiser from 9 p.m. to midnight on May 31.
“That amount was never intended to be what it would cost to construct a new building—it was the value of the additional space gained by removing the Rescue Squad HQ from the Third and Valley project—essentially payment for our old building.,” Cohen explained.
Originally, South Orange took the lead in deciding where to put the new squad building and gathering information on construction costs. The Board of Trustees debated a proposal that would have included an emergency shelter space on the second story of a new building – a plan that the Public Safety Committee didn’t support. (See related story here.)
According to Barry Lewis Jr., village administrator, the village decided to turn over the funds and the decision about the building to the rescue squad.
Cohen said that works to the squad’s advantage. “We have much more flexibility in working and negotiating with builders, contractors and architects than municipal governments do and aren’t subject to the same bidding requirements,” he said.
The Volunteer Rescue Squad has found temporary housing in a rented apartment and garage on Fourth Street, which will serve at its base until a new building is constructed.
The squad vacated the space on Third Street, built in 1968 and rebuilt in 1990 after a major fire, which sat on town-owned land. The Village sold the land to Jonathan Rose Cos., which is building a residential and commercial complex on the site.
Cohen said he hopes to have some of the issues with the old building fixed when they construct the new one. One of those problems was the lack of a proper location to store the three rescue squad ambulances.
“Over the summer I took a thermometer into one of the ambulances that was outside and it was over 120 degrees,” he said. “In the winter it is the opposite-- the temperatures inside are often well below freezing. In January we had to place patients in an ambulance where the temperature was 17 degrees, which is not good.”
Another issue Cohen said he hopes to have addressed is the live-in arrangements. When the headquarters was first created, the building was not used to house volunteers, but over the years that has changed and caused difficulties.
“At a minimum every night there (were) two to four people sleeping at the building (if there is one crew), and double that if two crews are staying in-house,” he said. “Because the building was designed and built before we were a live-in squad, (the former building had) only of one small room that holds two beds. This means that every night a minimum of one or two people (were) either sleeping on the floor or on a couch, which obviously is less than ideal.”