SUMMIT, NJ - The current and future landscape of the Hilltop City took center stage at the second Common Council meeting in June as Council received a first look at a proposal for a new firehouse and a were briefed on a second initiative -- one that would see additional trees, replacing those lost in recent years due to storms -- put forth by representatives of the Summit Shade Tree Advisory Commission.
Deputy Fire Chief Don Nelson introduced the new firehouse project, outlining the history of the project to date and the steps taken leading up to the proposed new building. In 2012, the Summit Fire Department began to look into dealing with the issues surrounding its 100+ year-old firehouse. Little has been done to the structure since a 1968 addition and it was noted that the building was designed for smaller apparatus than are currently in use.
Nelson went to conferences to talk to other fire departments and toured firehouses in different parts of the country. The decision was made to formally address the issue by having a needs assessment conducted, and the firm of LeMay, Erickson, Willcox, PC, Architects to prepare this assessment.
The initial assessment highlights the challenges posed by the current building. After a discussion with department members about current best practices and a complete building survey, multiple inadequacies were found. The building is not ADA compliant, the electrical system has been maxed out, there is no gender equality.
Repairing and addressing these issues would not be cost effective. Careful consideration was made to a new location for the firehouse, with attention paid to how the location would relate to response time. Three sites were studied and only one was found to be adequate, a section of Broad Street adjacent to the current NJ Transit Commuter Parking Lot. Nelson then introduced Christopher Kehde, AIA of LeMay, Erickson, Willcox, PC, Architects to present the initial building proposal.
Kehde pointed out that the Broad Street location was the best location not only in terms of response time, but because it would enable them to construct a long, linear space. The first floor would provide adequate space for all of the current equipment. Currently, some of the equipment -- which is expensive and represents an investment of funds -- are not under cover and are exposed to the elements. The new space would also be tall enough so that the truck cabs could be raised for minor repairs. An area in the front corner of the building, facing Broad Street, would feature the Department’s antique pumper in a glass area, providing an attractive focal point. Outside of this area would be a place for the firehouse bell.
A mezzanine area, created by the height of the equipment bays, could be adapted for a variety of training purposes. Kehde also discussed hot zones, transition zones, and cold zones. These terms describe areas of the building and their relationship to containments. Areas for decontamination are important for the health and well being of firefighters, who are exposed to a wide variety of chemicals used in fighting fires as well as those chemicals released by burning structures. According to the research presented on the LeMay website, firefighters are at higher risk for certain types of cancer and 100% more likely to develop testicular cancer. The current firehouse does not adequately address this issue.
The third floor of the facility would include administrative offices, living quarters, and a training room. The training room could also be used for an emergency management office when needed. The office space would be separate from the living quarters, but easily accessible. The living area would include an exercise room, kitchen and dining area, single user toilets and showers, and bunk rooms arranged for two or four people. The firm has found that these bunk room arrangements provide the greatest flexibility in terms of accommodating different genders.
Following the presentation, Council President David Naidu spoke and provided some context for the project for the public. He presented three questions that people may have and gave answers for each. The first question he addressed was, "why now?" He noted again that the building is over 100 years old. He also pointed out that the proposed location would be integrated into the redevelopment of the Broad Street west corridor, which includes the current firehouse. In addressing the need for Summit to have a full-time, professional fire department, Naidu stated that Summit is home to a Fortune 100 Company with two large campuses, the train station is a major hub for NJ Transit and serves a larger population than other stations, the presence of Overlook Medical Center, and that two major highways go through the town. He emphasized that the needs of these structures, as well as the residents of Summit, cannot wait for departments from other towns to respond to emergencies. In terms of cost, Naidu suggested that the cost of the new building could be offset by the Broad Street west development. His third point was that the current building has served the community for more than 100 years and that a carefully constructed new building would potentially last a long time as well.
Councilman Matt Gould said that he was a fan of the design and noted that firefighters putting their lives on the line deserved a building that does not leak. Gould stated that the new building is “the least we can do for people who put their lives on the line for us.” Councilman Mike McTernan raised the issue that the new building would impact the existing commuter lot asking where those spots would go. City administrator Rodgers indicated that they had already considered this issue and have already had conversations with private property owners to make arrangements for those commuters to park and be transported downtown by jitneys.
McTernan then asked the critical question of how much the new building would cost. The next phase of the project would include complete design documents and cost assessments. Kehde replied that the preliminary cost estimate is $11.8 million. McTernan also inquired about the project timing. The architectural firm would spend the next year on design, followed by 16 to 18 months of construction.
Councilwoman Marjorie Fox asked if environmentally-friendly design elements were part of the building proposal. Kehde replied that these would be further investigated in the next stage of design, but that the large, rectangular roof of the building would be ideal for solar panels. The additional cost of solar panels would be offset by reduced energy costs which typically pay for themselves in a ten-year period. Kehde pointed out that the pay back on solar panels used to be twenty years, so they have become a more affordable option than they previously were. Discussion of the firehouse proposal ended with President Naidu’s observation that Summit deserves a new firehouse.
Prior to the presentation on the firehouse, Summit resident and President of the Summit Shade Tree Advisory Committee John Kilby spoke about the tree canopy of the town. Kilby stressed that “the past decade has not been good for trees.” He noted that Superstorm Sandy, as well as the late spring snow storms, have taken down many of Summit’s trees and that there has been a 10 to 15% reduction in the tree canopy. He stated that the Committee feels that the City’s current annual tree planting of 80 trees is inadequate to address this loss. He also talked about the threat of the Emerald Ash Borer. A non-native species of insect, the Emerald Ash Borer infects and kills all species of ash tree. According to the NJ Department of Agriculture, the destructive insects have been found in 13 out of 21 NJ counties, including Essex and Morris, which are adjacent to Summit.
Councilwoman Ogden asked how many trees would the Committee recommend planting, to which Kilby replied, “as many as we can afford.” Kilby also reported that the Committee had begun a volunteer corps adressing “tree suckers.” These volunteers are also working on updating the 2,000 tree census, removing detrimental insects and fungus, and to report damage to trees. There are currently six volunteers, but more are needed. Those interested in volunteering can do so through the Summit website. Councilwoman Little noted that it would be helpful for homeowners to understand which trees are most appropriate for planting. Kilby noted that this information is currently available on the Committee’s website located at cityofsummit.org/336/Shade-Tree-Advisory-Committee.
Councilman McTernan asked about the treatment of trees against Emerald Ash Borers. Kilby stated that the treatment is available but cost prohibitive. Citizens can help prevent the spread of the disease by being careful about their sources of firewood. Councilman Bowman asked if the borers destroyed other types of trees, but Kilby replied that it is specific to ash trees.
Director of Public Works Paul Cascais took to the podium to address the issue of Summit’s tree population. He said that the town had previously been successful in treating trees. Councilman Gould asked where the 80 trees each year were planted. Cascais responded that they were planted on public property and on right of ways. He indicated that homeowners were resistant to having trees planted on right of ways adjacent to their property. He also reported that the town had received a grant to remove ash trees that were dying and that a variety of nine species were planted to ensure a healthy population of trees.
Naidu indicated that the Council would review the current tree ordinance. Councilwoman Fox said that she feels it is important to enforce tree removal and replacement rules so that homeowners are replacing trees and that those replacement trees should be appropriate.
In the Mayor’s Report, Mayor Radest gave an update on another fixture of the Summit landscape, the work on the Morris Avenue Bridge. Testing of signals and final approvals are currently being done by NJ Transit. She said that the town is closely monitoring the work of NJ Transit and that they have indicated that the bridge will open by the first week in July.