Woodmont finally gets its fire station to use as new borough hall

After about three years of planning, Woodmont officials on Friday finally took possession of the old Fire Station Number 5 to use as the Woodmont Borough Hall.

“We’re very happy,” said Ed Bonessi, borough warden, after sitting down in a City Hall caucus room to sign papers with Mayor Ben Blake, making the deal official.

The Board of Aldermen voted last September to give Woodmont the old fire station for $1. The city wasn’t using the station anymore because it was replaced with the new East Side Fire Station.

Planning has been going on for about three years on the east side of Milford, where Woodmont officials met many times over the past couple of years to plan and approve a means of acquiring the building once the city decommissioned it. During that time the borough got word that it would receive a $500,000 state grant to help renovate Fire Station No. 5.

The funding is due to come from a STEAP grant, which promotes community conservation and development.

The Woodmont Board of Burgesses also plans to sell the existing borough hall, which was once a two-room schoolhouse, and add the proceeds to help renovate the firehouse and build an outbuilding to store the borough’s police car and other equipment.

“This started as an idea by the previous warden, Dick Austin,” Bonessi said. “There was some controversy, and then former Fire Chief Lou LaVecchia came to Woodmont to tell everyone [about the plan to close the firehouse]. I approached him at that meeting, and he said to get in line because other people might want the building.”

Part of the delay since September, when Woodmont learned it could have the old firehouse, was the wording in an agreement between the city and Woodmont. The city maintains the right to keep communication equipment at the old Woodmont firehouse, equipment that had been at the Melba Street firehouse, which is also closed and is being sold.

“It really makes the building more central to the city’s infrastructure,” Bonessi said.

The building will be the borough hall, but during emergencies it also will be part of the city’s emergency response system. It will not be a full-fledged shelter because guidelines require there be room for pets, almost a kennel like setting, Bonessi said.

But the new borough hall will be a point of distribution during emergencies, handing out water, blankets Meals Ready to Eat (MREs), and there will be electronic charging stations.

Renovations will start soon, Bonessi said, once the design has gone to bid. Bonessi said the borough will probably file for a follow-up grant to help fund renovations. He’s hoping to have a ground breaking ceremony this summer, and see the first phase of the project complete in 12 months.

Once the new borough hall is ready, the existing borough hall will be put on the market for sale.