BERLIN – Town officials encouraged the Berlin Fire Company to consider leasing the former library building to generate additional revenue.
As Berlin Fire Company (BFC) leaders presented the organization’s quarterly report to the Berlin Town Council this week, the now vacant library building was a key point of discussion. Municipal officials said the building, which is owned by the BFC but was previously leased by the library, could generate revenue for the fire company.
“I think there is demand out there for space for a variety of things,” Mayor Gee Williams said. “For private sector, nonprofit sector, public sector. You could have a source of additional income right there that would be guaranteed.”
Monday’s quarterly report, dated July 1 to Dec. 31, 2018, reviewed the fire company’s activities and expenses. Fridays and Saturdays continue to be the busiest days for the fire company, according to David Fitzgerald, president of the fire company. Roughly 45 percent of the fire calls the BFC responded to were in-town calls. He said the average fire call response time was 5.79 minutes, which was within recommended parameters for a volunteer company.
Fitzgerald said costs were up in several areas, including fire prevention, fuel, maintenance and physicals for new members. In addition, the boiler at Main Street station will need to be replaced once the weather warms up and it’s not in use.
As far as EMS, Fitzgerald said roughly 59 percent of calls during the July 1-Dec. 31 timeframe were in-town calls. The busiest days for EMS crews were Saturday and Sunday.
Fitzgerald said that EMS response times were not split between staffed and unstaffed time periods so that the average response time was 7.53 minutes. He explained that number was skewed because on occasions when more than one call came in, the first call was responded to by EMS staff while the ensuing calls were left to volunteers. So while an EMS staff member might respond to a call within 60 seconds, a call that came in while they were gone would go to volunteers, who would need more time to get to the station.
Fitzgerald said expenses were higher than expected in the area of professional fees, as there was significant legal and accounting work associated with the new EMS corporation being created in accordance with the fire company’s contract with the town.
When Councilman Thom Gulyas asked about the fire company’s plans for the building that used to house the Berlin branch of the Worcester County Library, Fitzgerald said the BFC planned to use it for office space. He said what was currently office space in the headquarters building would be converted to a bunkroom.
“The main goal we want to do is free up area so the employees have a better facility for a bunkroom,” he said.
Gulyas said he thought the fire company had planned to use second-floor space for a bunkroom and consider leasing the library building.
“There’s quite a few agencies looking for space,” he said. “I know two of them that were interested in that library, they’re paying several thousand dollars a month where they are now.”
Fitzgerald said that second-floor space wasn’t ideal for the bunkroom.
“With having to put employees upstairs they have to go up and down responding to calls to make the 60-second criteria,” he said.
Williams said he echoed Gulyas’ suggestion, as many organizations needed office space. He asked BFC leadership to consider the building’s revenue potential.
“There’s not many places available right on Main Street with parking and that proximity,” he said. “I think everyone understands that everyone needs money. But at the same time, I think it’s also important that we assure that everything’s being done with what we have because obviously, to maintain the level of funding that we are currently at, we’re going to have to raise more funds ourselves. So if we know everybody is doing everything they can — the fire company isn’t doing any less than the town — then I think it’s much more understandable to the public, which ultimately has to pay for all of this.”
When Gulyas asked if the BFC’s new Route 50 station would include bunk rooms or office space, Fitzgerald said it would not.
“The new station is strictly for apparatus bays, two bathrooms, and a mechanical room where you’ve got to put the breaker boxes and all that in and a small little radio room where you have a computer and answer the radio,” Fitzgerald said.
He said there was some open space that might be used for exercise equipment.
“I really think you guys are missing the boat on leasing that unit that you’ve got there, that old library,” Gulyas said. “You’re looking at probably $3,500 to $5,000 a month income from that.”