Borough of Conshohocken considering buying former car dealership for $5.1 million to build public safety facility

During the June 5th meeting of Conshohocken’s Borough Council, there was a presentation from the borough’s two fire companies, the Washington Fire Company No. 1 and Conshohocken Fire Company No. 2, and Narberth Ambulance, which provides ambulance services to the community. Following the presentation there was a discussion discussion regarding the opportunity to buy the former car dealership along the 1100 block of Fayette Street to serve as unified facility for the fire department and ambulance company.

The potential purchase of the property is driven by the need to provide more space for Conshohocken Fire Company No. 2 and the Narberth Ambulance. During the presentation, the leadership of the first responder organizations spoke about how they have world-class equipment and volunteers but lack space within the current facilities to properly house the equipment, provide bunk space, training space, office space, and maintain their equipment in-house.

All three organizations own their facilities. If the borough were to move forward with purchasing the property and constructing a modern facility, Conshohocken Fire Company No. 2 and Narberth Ambulance would likely sell their properties. The Washington Fire Company No 1 plans to continue to own and operate its property, which currently is home to a private club upstairs, while the borough rents the bays to store firefighting equipment. It has not yet been determined whether funds generated through the two property sales would be applied towards the new facility.

All of the first responders agreed that retaining the Washington Fire Company No. 1 building is the right choice due to its proximity to the river and large parking garages. Under this new plan, it would house water rescue boats and equipment and smaller vehicles that can be used to fight fires within a parking structure.

The presentation also involved how a new and unified facility would help attract additional quality volunteers. There was also an acknowledgement that with the trend of declining volunteerism, the borough may eventually need to move to providing for a fully professional first responder force and it would be beneficial to have this facility in place for the future.

Following the presentation from the first responders, the borough’s executive director of operations/ emergency management coordinator, Ray Sokolowski, shared that the concept of a unified public safety facility has been around for at least 15 years, and that the borough was recently exploring potentially buying other properties within the borough (mostly bank buildings along Fayette Street in the middle avenues). All of these buildings had financial challenges such as buying out leases, and physical challenges, like grading.

Sokolowski continued that the opportunity to buy the former dealership was unexpected and that it is a unique property due to its size. With the support of the first responders organizations, a price of $5.1 million was negotiated with the property owner, Provco Pineville Fayette, LP.

As you may remember, Provco Pineville Fayette sought to redevelop the property as a Wawa with gas pumps for more than a decade; however, it abandoned the plan in 2021 after Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court found that the zoning amendment passed by the borough council in 2017 was spot zoning.

The borough council then discussed the opportunity and options for purchasing the property if it decides to move forward. As Borough Manager Stephanie Cecco explained, the borough could finance the $5.1 million through Fulton Bank over five, 10, or 15 years at interest rates between five and six percent. The borough also could pay the entire amount out of its capital budget, which was $34 million at the end of May. The council would also have to decide how to pay for the facility’s construction. The design and price of the facility has not yet been determined.

The borough council’s attorney shared that the council would need to adopt a series of resolutions to move forward with the purchase. No votes were taken on the issue during the June 5th meeting.

Look for future articles on this issue as it moves forward. You can view the presentation and discussion at the 36 minute mark.

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