By Jeff Toquinto, NEWS EDITOR
The Bridgeport News, (Thursday, November 13, 2003) As the possibility that a new United Hospital Center will be built along Jerry Dove Drive grows, so to does the consideration for a new substation that could house units from the city’s fire and police departments.
The addition of the hospital to the northern end of the city, well away from the city’s Main Street fire station, has intensified the city’s consideration for such a facility. But the opening of the hospital alone likely won’t be enough for a new substation, said City Manager Kim Haws.
"This makes it a stronger need," said Haws. "At the same time, it’s going to have to take a combination of the hospital and some serious development at Charles Pointe to warrant and justify that type of expenditure.
Although there have been no formal cost analysis done for a new substation and what it would entail, Haws said it would be a "multi-million dollar expenditure" to build the substation. Even with that price tag, the construction and equipment costs aren’t the biggest concern for the city.
"The construction is one thing, but you have long-term staffing needs," said Haws. "That’s more of a concern because manpower is a cost you will deal with from that point forward. There may be ways to handle some of the construction and equipment costs."
There has been discussion about using some of the B&O money from the hospital development, as well as tax dollars from other development that is likely to take place along Interstate 79, to fund construction of a substation.
Grant monies could be used for equipment and other items, including infrastructure.
"Even then, you’d have to have the development to justify it," said Haws. "The development will determine the service needs. You have to have revenue generated out there to pay for the expanded service. We can do all the planning in the world, but if there’s no revenue being generated out there, then it won’t happen."
The good news is that with the hospital likely going up in the next few years, and development at Charles Pointe looking more certain than ever before, there will be new revenue streams. Eventually, the area could see new additions on the residential front that would also provide dollars to city coffers.
"We know the hospital doesn’t warrant a substation," said Haws. "We do know it pushes us closer to that need."
Fire Chief John Vanlandingham said he believes the day will come when that need arrives. And, he thinks it will be sooner rather than later.
"We’re looking at the possibility for a public safety station for fire and police in a five-year plan," said Vanlandingham. "It would serve the hospital and the Charles Pointe area, but that will be determined by development."
A total build out of the Charles Pointe area, along with additional acreage around the hospital site, would double the fire department’s current call volume, the chief said.
"In all likelihood, half of the calls would be right there," said Vanlandingham. "That, though is looking at it from the point that everything planned for that area will take place. Whether or not that happens is unknown, but we at least have to consider that it will for planning purposes."
Vanlandingham said it makes sense to put police and fire in the same building. In the past, talk focuses on a fire substation. Now, those involved think it’s important to have both in that area of the city if feasible.
"You’d have to have a structured analysis to make those decisions with input from every level, including the public," said Haws. "The good news is that we have a nice window of time to start looking at what to do in the event development comes and revenue follows it to the point where we can justify the expenditure."
The window Haws is referring to is the time before UHC actually opens for business. UHC officials said an actual completion for construction could still be as many as five years away.