Brian Bartholomew: nay
In an exclusive Press interview, Catasauqua Borough Council President Brian Bartholomew discussed elements of a plan sketched out to solve the borough's public facility problem. The borough's immediate need, as identified by Bartholomew and most everyone else, is that the borough needs to consolidate scattered firehouses and revamp police headquarters.
Bartholomew opposes the Weston Solutions proposal expected to come up for a vote at Monday's council meeting because of the estimated $7 million price tag.
"If I can put something together that is less expensive, I can save the borough a couple of million dollars and we can get new fire equipment that we need," he said.
Fire Chief Richard Hertzog reported to council that no engineer would give him a guarantee that East End Station could house a new fire truck. Bartholomew agrees with the Fire Chief's assessment.
The problem with the fire stations and how emergency vehicles are housed has been on council's agenda for decades, but council, for various reasons, has not taken action on a plan.
If response time by the fire department drops and the borough cannot deploy updated equipment, there is a possibility that the borough's insurance rating will decline, resulting in higher property insurance premiums for residents.
According to borough Police Chief Douglas Kish, the police department is plagued with different problems. The overcrowded quarters recently suffered water damage from upper floor apartments and the jail cells are inadequate.
Three years ago, the borough again began to address its problems. Armed with assessments and effectiveness studies, council members looked at locations where they could construct a new emergency management building. Borough owned property on Pearl Street was considered and remains an option.
There are disadvantages to the Pearl Street location.
First, it is near an elementary school and an active athletic facility. Second, access to the borough is via Race Street, which is crowded and almost impassable during certain hours.
The property along Front Street owned by FL Smidth presented certain advantages.
The site's owner offered to sell the property to the borough but the council was reluctant to take on development responsibilities.
Later, Weston Solutions, of West Chester, a well-respected commercial developer offered to team up with the borough to develop the vacant property on Front Street. Councilman Vincent Smith advocates moving forward with Weston's proposal. His points are in the accompanying article.
Bartholomew opposes the Weston project because it is too costly.
Early this summer, Bartholomew independently explored alternatives to Weston's proposal.
"I met with [real estate developer Abraham] Atiyeh about the bank building on Bridge Street. He would be willing to sell the building to the borough for $200,000," he said.
At the meeting on Dec. 3, Bartholomew estimated the cost of his plan at $3 million, although he presented no firm figures.
"I should have figures together by the Dec. 17 meeting," he said. Bartholomew is estimating the cost of the stand-alone fire station at $700,000 based on estimates he received.
"There is a study out there that says $3 million, but that included a lot of extras," he said. "What I'm talking about is a bare bones, steel building with four bays and maybe four offices," he said. "Some of the prep work could be done by the borough."
Bartholomew would also consider keeping the station at Second and Church Streets open to serve the downtown area.
"I think we could get the bank building done for $1 million, but people are giving me ideas to better use the space, so the cost might be a little higher," he said. Bartholomew is working to assemble a believable cost list to flesh out his alternative.
"All I'm trying to do is to do the right thing by the people of the borough," he said.