Plan to use old firehouse raises ire

(Original publication: February 4, 2004)

KENT — Supervisor William Tulipane's cost-saving proposal to temporarily move the Kent recreation department into the old Lake Carmel firehouse has been greeted with a threat of legal action by the surrounding park district, which lays claim to the building.

Wanda Schweitzer, chairwoman of the Lake Carmel Park District Advisory Committee, said she would take the town to court if Tulipane proceeded with his plan.

"It's on park district property," Schweitzer said. "Lake Carmel residents should have a say."

Last week, Tulipane told the recreation department to begin preparing for the move. The department's staff — two employees, one full-time and one part-time — are currently housed in a small office rented by the town in a Route 52 shopping center. Several other offices, including Tulipane's, are in nearby suites.

The park district committee has asked the town to hold off until a district-commissioned study of the firehouse's structure and septic system is finished. The Town Board at its meeting Monday will vote on whether to wait for the study, which can't be completed until at least spring because the septic system can't be evaluated in cold weather.

The move, which also would include relocating two part-time archive clerks and Kent's voting machines to the site on Route 52, would save the town about $25,000 this year, Tulipane said. Everything, he said, would be there until the town's new offices are ready for occupancy next year. The savings, he said, are diminishing the longer the matter is discussed.

"My motive is to save the town money," said Tulipane, who wanted to get the move under way this week. "They've been assured it's on a temporary basis."

A Town Hall, library and police station are under construction on Route 52 about a mile north of the current facilities. Once those are finished, Tulipane said, the recreation staff can move into the old Town Hall, which now houses the town court and planning department.

Town officials are still struggling with a possible $12,000 a year rent increase at the current site in the shopping center and moving to the firehouse would reduce the amount of space being rented.

"The (firehouse) facility would be more than adequate for offices and storage," Recreation Director William Huestis said.

Liz Allison, co-chairwoman of the Lake Carmel Park District Advisory Committee, said Tulipane's proposal would alienate most of the town's population. About 8,000 of Kent's approximately 14,000 people live in the Lake Carmel section.

"Mr. Tulipane has no right to bully us and tell us what to do," Allison said.

Both sides cite an October resolution passed by the Town Board that states the firehouse is "presently owned by the town of Kent for the benefit of the park district." Tulipane said trying to save the town money by placing a town department in the building is allowed, according to the resolution's language. Allison disagreed.

"It's not for the benefit of the park district even if it is temporary," she said.

The Lake Carmel Fire Department vacated its old building near Barrett Hill Road last year for its new firehouse, also on Route 52. The old building, about 3,500 square feet, was too small for the department's trucks.

The disposition of the old firehouse has been a long-time focus of the advisory committee, which has compiled a thick file of real estate and town records to bolster its claim of ownership. The park district, Schweitzer and others said, needs the building to house its maintenance staff and equipment. Most of the equipment is currently parked outside on the other side of the lake.

"The Town Board needs to do what is best for the district," said Gretchen Brokaw, a Lake Carmel resident.

The meeting Monday will be at 7:30 p.m. at Kent Town Hall on Route 52.

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Wednesday, January 5, 2005