BETHANY - It's taken decades and numerous, often heated, meetings to forge a consensus but Bethany's volunteer firemen are closer than ever to achieving their goal of a new central firehouse. At a special meeting on Jan. 10, the Board of Finance approved a resolution recommending appropriation of an additional $1.285 million for construction of the facility.

The additional funds would bring the total for the project to $3.885 million -significantly more than the $2.6 million approved by voters in 2003. But, according to Board of Finance Chairman Russ von Beren, "The original [figure] was really insufficient to build this firehouse." That's a judgment strongly underscored by both Warren Buchter, chairman of the Firehouse Building Committee, and Robert McSherry, fire chief. In fact, they point out, the first round of bids on the project all came in at well over $4 million.

No one wanted to go back to the town for that kind of money so, pressed to work together by First Selectwoman Derrylyn Gorski, the building committee and fire department officers met intensively to hammer out a solution. They brought in Carlin Construction Company, the lowest bidder on the first proposal and a specialist in a "design build" approach that eliminates cost overruns.

After jettisoning a number of aesthetic but unnecessary features in the original design - expensive tiling, an elaborate roof suspension - they proceeded to cut out some features strongly favored by the department that were not essential to the building's functioning.

The largest of these items were an automatic sprinkler system, and radiant heat in the garage bay floor, accounting for over $300,000 in savings. Further savings were garnered by redesigning most of the building's mechanicals: notably heating, lighting, and water storage.

Chief McSherry said that the new firehouse will remedy major deficiencies of the present one. It will be fully OSHA compliant equipped with decontamination and gear-washing areas (at present the firemen must travel to Woodbridge for these functions). There will also be showers, a bunkroom, office space and adequate space for training and department meetings as well as plenty of room for the fire trucks and emergency vehicles that are presently squeezed too tightly into the old building.

The location for the new firehouse, off Amity Road near the town highway department, will solve some safety issues as well. Chief McSherry tells stories of a number of near-misses with passing vehicles in the narrow corridor between the firehouse and Rt. 63.

"It's been a long haul, and frustrating at times," concludes Buchter, "but everyone has worked together in the best interests of the town and the Fire Department."

Gorski agrees. "The proposal that [the Building Committee] is bringing forth after a lot of hard work is the best value for the town. I'm confident we wouldn't be able to build a fire station that would truly meet our needs for any less money."

There are two more hurdles for the project: funds approved by the two Boards must still go before Bethany taxpayers at a town meeting on Jan. 26 and a referendum on Feb. 2.

The expected tax impact for property owners footing the bill is an increase of .48 mills - that is, $48 per $100,000 of assessed value - over a 20 year bond issue.