Important Information

What is the current situation?

What kind of progress has been made on the restoration?

What’s in it for the City of Elmira?


What is the current situation?

On January 3, 2007, Elmira Mayor Mr. John Tonello sent an email to all Councilmembers (not the Firehouse 4th District Councilmember Hitchcock, as he did not take office until January 8th) indicating that the City was looking to exercise their rights to take back the Firehouse property.

The Historic 1897 Firehouse was not even notified by the State that it had officially lost its Environmental Quality Bond Act (EQBA) grant until January 8, 2007. (see letter)

The Firehouse organization received a letter from the City’s Corporation Counsel on January 10, 2007 notifying them of the City’s intention to re-enter the property and advising them to attend the January 22, 2007 City Council Meeting. (see letter; see deed)

This action is apparently a knee-jerk reaction to the length of time it has taken the Firehouse group to complete the restoration project in combination with what they deem a major loss of funding (the grant) for the project.

The EQBA grant program was closed at the end of 2006 and all existing grants – not just ours – under the program were cancelled – we were not singled out. The possibility of this action was anticipated some time ago and was not deemed a major problem. The State had not been timely in returning necessary paperwork, and thus the grant was problematic for the group.

The Firehouse organization was understandably disappointed by the loss, but realized it was a chance to step back and take a fresh look at the financial package for the project. The Firehouse Board of Directors hired a professional consultant – Mr. Murray Gould of Port City Preservation, LLC from Oswego, NY – to complete a comprehensive financial plan for the project. (see contract; see bio)

The Firehouse organization has requested that the City delay the re-entry to the property until at least May 31, 2007. (see letter)

A press release was issued on January 19, 2007 to inform the public of the pending vote by the Elmira City Council. (see press release)

Elmira City Council passed a resolution at their regular meeting on January 22, 2007 authorizing Mayor Tonello to provide 30 days notice to our organization that the City will be taking Fire Station No. 4 back based on a reverter clause in the deed to the organization. (see resolution)

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What kind of progress has been made on the restoration?

How it began:

  • Ad Hoc Committee urged City Council to preserve the building at a May 1986 Council meeting, resulting in removal of a resolution item calling for its demolition.
     
  • City Council approved the preservation concept in January 1987 and signed a development agreement with the committee in August 1987.
     
  • Station 4 listed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places in 1988.
     
  • Ad Hoc Committee applies and awarded an Environmental Quality Bond Act challenge grant in the amount of $179,700 in 1990 - 50/50 matching grant that could be matched in cash or in-kind contributions.
     
  • Ad Hoc Committee formally organized as a non-profit and chartered by NYS Education Department in July 1989 as The Historic 1897 Firehouse.
     
  • Crawford & Stearns Architects, Syracuse NY hired in 1991, at which time research and restoration planning began.
     
  • The Historic 1897 Firehouse received IRS 501-c-3 tax exempt status in July 1993 after years of delays and lost paperwork by the IRS with help from our Congressmen.
     
  • The Historic 1897 Firehouse purchased Station 4 from the City of Elmira for $500 in June 1995. Deed contained clause allowing City to take the property back (re-entry) after two years if project was not completed per the development agreement. Non-written verbal understanding with City indicated no re-entry would occur as long as progress was being made.
     
  • Months of discussions over title issues between City and State attorneys led up to approval of EQBA grant agreement in April 1996 allowing project to begin.

Recent work:

  • Suspected asbestos in wall plaster in February 1998 prompts investigation - all work and planning ceased due to possible health hazards. Multiple sample results positive for asbestos –Link Environmental Services Inc., Binghamton, NY hired in 2001 to oversee asbestos abatement project. $1,000 previously budgeted for asbestos abatement ultimately cost $32,000 to complete. $40,000 State Initiatives Grant obtained in 1999 being used for asbestos abatement and construction work not covered under EQBA grant.
     
  • Lambert’s Asbestos Removal Service, Inc., Big Flats, NY hired through competitive bid to complete asbestos abatement in April 2001. Project completed in June 2001. (see photos)
     
  • Structural deficiencies uncovered during asbestos abatement - Novelli Engineering, Ithaca, NY completed roof framing engineering study and determined two valley rafters and several rafter tails were in need of replacement. Also noted that structural supports in basement were inaccessible due to accumulation of cinders & ashes.
     
  • Doane Builders Inc., Elmira Heights, NY hired to complete roof framing repairs. Work completed in May 2003. (see photos)
     
  • Discussions with NYS determined that cinders and ashes in basement must be removed through archaeological dig to locate potential artifacts. Search for archaeologist began in Fall 2003.
     
  • Dr. Heidi Dierckx, Assistant Professor of Classic Civilizations & Archaeologist at Elmira College volunteered her efforts in February 2004 to recover Firehouse artifacts. When complete, the project moved 108 tons of cinders & ashes and recovered many artifacts. Dig complete in June 2004, cleanup and documentation completed by June 2005.
     
  • Plans & specs completed by architect Crawford & Stearns, Syracuse, NY for interior structural repairs, exterior masonry restoration, roof replacement, and other work. Plans approved by State in November 2005. Work ready to bid out.
     
  • State loses grant extension request paperwork in May 2006 preventing The Historic 1897 Firehouse from obtaining a bridge loan to pay contractors until grant reimbursement came through. Extension paperwork resubmitted in June 2006. Final grant extension paperwork received August 2006 – too late to bid work for 2006 construction season.
     
  • Firehouse receives official notification on January 8, 2007 that EQBA grant has been cancelled.
     
  • Firehouse receives official notification on January 10, 2007 that City of Elmira is considering its option of taking the Firehouse property back.
     

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What’s in it for the City of Elmira?

  • What will the City do with the building? The City has not announced any plans for the building.
     
  • The property is extremely restricted for use as a park or fire station. (see deed)
     
  • The deed contains a preservation covenant for the next 23 years, eliminating demolition. (see covenant)
     
  • The City is in serious financial trouble and does not need any more liability. The City considered the Firehouse a huge liability in 1986.
     
  • The City appears to have a poor track record of developing properties.
     
  • The City appears to have a very poor track record in maintaining the properties it owns.
     
  • A new developer for the Firehouse property would need a considerable amount of time to study the property, develop plans & specs, and begin work.
     
  • If the City takes the property back, they will have to take on the responsibility of maintenance, grounds keeping, and insurance – all of which are provided by the Firehouse organization now.
     
  • The Firehouse group has made considerable progress in the project and has plans & specs already approved by the State.
     
  • Because the building is listed on the State & National Registers of Historic Places, all construction work on the building must be approved by the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) before work can begin.
     
  • The loss of the Firehouse project will be a loss of many tourist dollars to not only the City, but to the County, and the State.
     
  • The Firehouse organization has worked very hard to bring a world-class one-of-a-kind living history museum to the City of Elmira to help revitalize the area and preserve an important historic building.
     
  • The taking back of this building by the City makes no sense, is counterproductive, is political, and hurts all residents of this State.
     
  • It would be better to allow the Firehouse group to continue than to take a long shot at finding a new developer.
     
  • The building’s location is a huge drawback to its development as is its small 4000 sq. ft. size.
     
  • If the City is so concerned with how long the project has taken, why have they not met with our organization and discussed it? No discussions have taken place with the City over this desire to take the property back, why?
     
  • The project is to benefit the City, why not help the organization succeed instead of helping them fail?
     
  • Why destroy many years of effort when a volunteer organization has put in so much for the benefit of the City’s residents and continues to make progress?
     

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