Village officials undecided about use of Knights hall as local shelter going forward

by Dan McClelland
The generator at the village's long time emergency shelter at the Knights of Columbus hall on High Street is in need of extensive repairs.  At the board meeting Wednesday, village officials were undecided exactly what to do about it, given the arrival last year of the Emergency Services Building (ESB) and its new spacious community room.
Village Clerk Mary Casagrain said she was unaware right now the exact cost of the service work needed on the back-up generator by the company Penn Power..  “It might take two technicians from two days to two weeks,” she told the elected officials Wednesday.  “And then there's the added expense to us of meals and lodging.”
The village also has the option of sending the large generator to the company's repair shop in Syracuse to have the service work done.
According to Electric Superintendent Marc Staves the machine is over 20 years old and is equipped with a Fiat-made engine.
He figured shipping the generator to Syracuse was the best and least expensiveanswer for the village.
Mayor Paul Maroun felt that the shelter at the Knights hall may no longer be needed, given the village's ESB “now equipped with everything.”
“I don't think we need to spend the money” fixing that generator, he told his board.
The community's emergency manager, Fire Chief Carl Steffen, disagreed, explaining “you can't have a command post at the same place you are bringing people in” to shelter them.
Mr. Staves said the command center and the community center were in the same building in Rouse's Point during a past emergency.
The fire chief disagreed with him, saying that community's command post was in a building at the former Plattsburgh Air Force Base.
Trustee Ron LaScala agreed with the mayor that the community should be using the ESB for everything in an emergency.  “We spent a lot of money on the ESB...and we need to use its community room!”
The mayor said if the community needed the community room to house people the command center could operate in the fire truck bays, by moving the trucks temporarily outside.
Fire Chief Steffen said it was not an issue of space.  He said in an emergency there are many people coming and going.  The community room was designed to be the community's command center andas such was equipped with extra telephone lines to accommodate the various agencies like the New York State Police and the Department of Environmental Conservations that would also be using it in an extended emergency, he told the village leaders.
Those extra communications lines don't exist in the garage portion of the building, he added.
“In emergencies the taxpayers should be using it (as a shelter), because they are the ones paying for it,” argued Trustee LaScala.
“I'll talk with the Knights,” the mayor suggested.  “Maybe they don't need the generator any more?”
Mr. Staves noted that the village's mechanic Brad Paige told him the old generator should be replaced if the village wanted to continue use the Knights building as a secondary shelter.
Trustee David “Haji” Maroun said he didn't want to spend money on trying to fix the old generator.
The mayor said he thought the community should use the ESB “for everything” in times of emergency.
Trustee Clint Hollingsworth agreed with the fire chief that the community room should be the place for the command center “since it was designed for that.”
“I'm not just talking about the community room...we've got an entire big building there” to use for both a shelter and command post, stated the mayor.
Trustee LaScala said he remembers vividly the village's building consultant Sean Foran telling everyone at a public meeting that the trucks could be moved out so people could be also be housed in the garage section of the building.  “So how did we mis-design this thing?”
Asked by the mayor how much a new generator would cost for the Knights of Columbus building, Marc Staves guessed somewhere between $25,000 and $30,000.  He noted the generator in the ESB cost about $50,000.
“I don't think anyone on this board wants to spend a lot of money fixing that old generator!” the mayor asserted at that point.
Code Enforcement Officer Pete Edwards said that diesel engines, like the one that runs the K.of C. generator can be rebuilt for as little as $2,000 or $3,000.  He said there are many skilled diesel mechanics in town who could likely rebuild it.
Police Chief Eric Proulx noted that there were reports earlier that the Knights may be closing their building.  “I don't think the village should spend a lot of money” on that generator, he told the board.
The mayor noted that the Knights had decided to keep their building for now.
He said he would speak with the Council's leadership to get their feelings of retaining the quarters on High Street as a community shelter in emergencies.
That brought the comment from DPW Superintendent Bob DeGrace: “Let me know what you are going to do so I can quit plowing it” if it is no longer going to be used as a community shelter.