A plan to consolidate Auburn and Cayuga County emergency services into one facility has been resurrected on a smaller scale than initially proposed but nevertheless is moving forward.
The proposed new facility would be located in the Save-A-Lot plaza on Seminary Street and would house the Auburn Fire Department. Auburn City Manager Jeff Dygert and Cayuga County Administrator J. Justin Woods have also discussed conceptual plans to relocate the county Emergency Management Office and E-911 office to the new facility. The city was awarded a $2 million grant in 2016 from the state Department of Environmental Conservation to put toward the facility. Dygert and Woods both hope the project will qualify for funding under the state's Shared Services Initiative.
The fire department has expressed the need for a new facility for years. The Market Street station is over 85 years old and cannot support the weight of modern fire trucks — the floors are cracking and parts of the building are crumbling. The department is also running out of space for record keeping, equipment storage and staffing needs.
The plan for a public safety center has been discussed by the city and county on and off for years. In 2015, the city received four development proposals and began to move forward with one proposal from First Response Developers. However, the Auburn City Council canceled the project in May 2016 amid budgetary restrictions. The plan at the time was to build a new complex at an unspecified downtown location for between $22 million and $28 million. Tenants for the building at the time included the Auburn fire and police departments, Auburn City Court and several Cayuga County agencies, including the probation department.
The police station, which underwent significant renovations in 2017, will remain at its North Street headquarters. Dygert said the police department will be able to utilize some extra space once the fire department moves to its new building, but to what extent has not yet been decided.
Now, the city is working with Washington Street Partners, a Syracuse developer, to build the facility. The developer already owns the Seminary Street plaza, named Seminary Commons. There is about 13,600 square feet of vacant building currently available, according to the Washington Street Partners' website. Dygert said the city will try to utilize the structure already there, but any plan will have to include constructing a garage for fire trucks. Dygert said the plaza's other tenants will not be displaced from their current spaces if the project moves forward.
Dygert stressed the project is still in the early stages and very few details are known about the cost or scope at this point. The size of the facility will hinge on which county agencies, if any, decide to relocate to the complex.
Woods discussed the preliminary plans with members of the Cayuga County Legislature during the Feb. 14 Judicial and Public Safety Committee meeting.
"Conceptually, I think the idea makes a lot of sense," Woods said during a phone interview with The Citizen, adding that he believes the legislators are also "conceptually supportive" of the idea. However, the county will not commit to any plan until more details are known.
Dygert said he plans to have a better idea of what the project will cost in the next few weeks. By the end of April, he hopes to have a complete plan to present to the city council for public discussion.
"I am working very hard with the developer to make the most efficient use of the property we can," Dygert said. "We know we need the facility. I can go back to 1991 for the need for a new facility. It's something that's been talked about and it continually comes up but just never quite gets to the finish line. The scope of the project has been significantly reduced to keep the project as economical as possible. We're going to get to a point where we can't wait any longer. We can't keep putting it off."