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St. Lawrence County fire-training facility receives $100,000 in state funds

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POTSDAM — State grants for the construction of the St. Lawrence County Fire Training Facility have put the end of the once-troubled project in sight.

Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa, announced $100,000 in state funds for the project Monday, in addition to the $100,000 secured by state Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, in October.

“Our firefighters and first responders deserve a modern and convenient training facility. This state-of-the-art facility will serve St. Lawrence County well in that regard,” Mrs. Russell said in a statement.

“This is just absolutely phenomenal. This has just almost done it for us,” said Dale W. Gardner, a past Canton fire chief who has been among those coordinating fundraising efforts.

Live-fire training exercises are a must for firefighters in training, but St. Lawrence County has been without a training facility since the handmade building that served the purpose for 35 years was condemned for being unsafe in 2008.

A two-story building to be built in West Potsdam was proposed almost two years ago, but fundraising efforts stalled. The nonprofit group responsible for fundraising appealed to all 41 St. Lawrence County fire departments, but the going was tough.

The group has the support of St. Lawrence County, but since it is not a fire department or an official government organization, it is ineligible for many public grants.

“Every time we tried to look at some of those funds, they came back and said, ‘You’re not a fire department,’” Mr. Gardner said.

County firefighters trained at facilities in Jefferson, Franklin and Lewis counties in lieu of their own location.

The planned facility will cost nearly $500,000 and will be constructed by Fire Facilities Inc. of Sun Prairie, Wis. A foundation was constructed last year in hopes that the group would raise the money needed to complete the building this year.

The $200,000 in new state funds brings the total raised to $340,000.

The group hopes to obtain a loan to cover the final $160,000 and begin construction this year. It will appeal to the county to pay back the loan over the next 10 years.

County legislators at a committee meeting Monday agreed to negotiate the details of how to pay for the training center so construction can start.

“We’re not asking for a handout,” said Joseph A. Finnegan, chairman of the county Fire Advisory Board.

Legislators said they would wait to see the recommendation on how to fund the remainder of the project.

“This motion isn’t going to cost any money at this point,” said Legislator James A. Bunstone, D-Potsdam. “It’s a motion to go into negotiation.”

Times staff writer Martha Ellen contributed to this report.

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