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Buffalo's newest firehouse is going to cost 30 percent more than similar firehouses because the price tag includes buying the old Painters Union Hall.

The city's own estimates put the cost of the new firehouse at Elmwood Avenue and Virginia Street at about $146 per square foot. That compares with about $112 per square foot for the firehouse at Jefferson Avenue and Kingsley Street, which opened in 1989.

The total cost, between $1.9 million and $2.1 million, is expected to climb even higher if the city moves its fire headquarters from behind City Hall to the new facility.

"I think the whole project will turn out to be quite questionable," said Common Council President James W. Pitts, who is running for mayor in the Nov. 4 election.

The city paid $575,000 for the union hall, in what some city officials have privately called a political payback to the Building Trades Council, which includes the painters union and was the first major labor group to support Mayor Masiello.

The city's purchase of the painters hall is the single biggest reason for the higher cost at the new firehouse. By comparison, the land at Jefferson and Kingsley cost about $13,000.

Masiello aides noted that this year, the Building Trades Council did not support Masiello's re-election bid. They also claim the new station is no cause for alarm and will prove a bargain.

Plans to spend an extra $500,000 to relocate fire headquarters to the former two-story union hall will only add to the economic benefit, according to Fire Commissioner Cornelius J. Keane.

"Where can you get a three-bay firehouse and a bigger home for fire headquarters for $2.6 million?" Keane asked. "When there was discussion about building a new police headquarters because of the county courthouse issue, the price tag I heard mentioned was $15 million."

Keane defended the purchase of the old union hall, which included two buildings and a garage. He said the building is ideal because of its central location.

"Four years ago, we closed four fire companies for an annual savings of $4 million, and two of those companies were near where the new firehouse is situated," Keane said. "By selecting the Elmwood-Virginia site, we have the ability to fill in where those other companies were."

Another spin-off benefit, Keane said, will be the recycling of the existing fire headquarters into an Emergency Operations Center. He said the renovation costs will be minimal.

Pitts says the city could have saved money by choosing a different site in the Allentown neighborhood.

Some suggest using a former firehouse at Jersey and Plymouth streets, about a half-mile away, or the Buffalo Public Schools' Adult Learning Center across the street from the union hall.

The high price tag for converting the union hall into a firehouse doesn't surprise Delaware Council Member Alfred T. Coppola who opposed the project two years ago and, since then, has voted against every single change order.

"They're trying to accommodate their use at a building that is designed for another use," Coppola said.

The change orders have been numerous, but they amount to only $107,000, about 6 percent of the overall cost.

"They were all necessary," said Public Works Commissioner Joe Giambra.

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