Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Vernon's new ambulance building nearly complete

By Jason Rowe
Journal Inquirer
November 29, 2005

VERNON — Workers are putting the finishing touches on the new $1.97 million ambulance building on West Street.

All that remains to be done is finish work, such as carpeting and painting, and the installation of a telephone system, officials said.

The town also is working to acquire furniture for the building's office and dormitory areas, officials said.

But perhaps most important, the town's ambulances are "extremely close" to being housed in the new building, just in time for the cold winter weather, Mayor Ellen L. Marmer said today.

"It certainly gives us what we need," Marmer said. "I think most people in the neighborhood are extremely excited."

Members of the committee charged with overseeing construction toured the 11,000-square-foot facility last week and came away impressed, Democratic Council-woman Marie A. Herbst, the committee's chairwoman, said.

"Now we're beginning to see what was on paper become a reality," Herbst said today. "It's incredible how much they got into that little building."

Herbst said her committee has formed two subcommittees: one in charge of acquiring furniture and one in charge of scheduling a community open house to show off the new facility.

While no dates have been set for the open house, Herbst said it will be on a Saturday to give residents the greatest opportunity to see the new building.

The project's price tag was partially offset by a $500,000 state grant. The remainder of the funding came from revenue generated by the ambulance service, which bills for its services.

Voters approved funding for the project in a Jan. 4 referendum.

Before work began, the ambulance building was a cramped, 4,800-square-foot Cold War-era building that was not big enough to store the town's ambulances.

Because state regulations say temperatures in ambulances have to stay at 50 degrees or higher, ambulances had to sit idling outside during the winter months, officials said.

Fire Chief Robert Kelley said the ambulances could begin operating out of the new building as soon as mid-December.

In addition to storing ambulances, the new building also houses a community room, dormitory space, and offices for the emergency management director.

"That building can be set up for emergency management in minutes," Herbst said.

The building also features increased storage and a new room where Fire Department workers can service their breathing equipment.

After returning from a call, ambulance workers will be able to utilize a decontamination room to clean their uniforms and clothes.

Before, clothing was left at local hospitals to be decontaminated.

The concept of a public safety building has been in the works for at least two mayoral administrations.

A plan by the previous Republican administration would have transformed the old kindergarten building on Center Road into a full-scale complex serving the fire and police departments.

But soon after taking office in November 2003, Marmer dropped the plan, saying the scope of the project was too large and went against the intent of the state grant secured in 2002 by then-Mayor Diane Wheelock.

Controversy also arose in June after the building committee decided to hire Meriden-based LaRosa Building Group to serve as the project's construction manager.

The $209,000 contract was negotiated using a process known as quality-based bidding.

That process did not sit well with Republican members of the Town Council, who said they would have preferred that a contract be awarded to the lowest bidder.

But Herbst said today the town has saved money by using the quality-based system.

The town also saved about $300,000 by having workers from the Department of Public Works perform demolition and site work, after initial construction bids came in at more than $2 million.

Kelley praised Public Works for helping the town to keep costs down.

"I can't commend Public Works enough," Kelley said.