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Ambulance corps seeking to triple size of Osborn Ave headquarters

The Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance Corps is asking the Town Board to approve a 5,720-square-foot expansion to triple the size of its Osborn Avenue headquarters.

Al Gehres, the district manager for the ambulance corps, said he received one cost estimate of $1.5 million for the job.

However, town officials say much of the cost can be offset by revenue derived from third-party billing for ambulance service, which the corps began doing earlier this year.

The ambulance has been in need of additional space for years, but Mr. Gehres said building a completely new building “is off the table financially.”

The ambulance corps also had rejected the town’s suggestion to move into the Second Street firehouse, which has since been sold. Town officials said they don’t deny that the ambulance corps’ needs more space. They are just concerned about the cost.

“The current building was commissioned in 1989, and there has been no additional infrastructure since, other than basic maintenance,” Mr. Gehres said. The number of calls the corps has received has increased greatly over the years, he said.

The corps’ website indicates a jump in calls from 3,718 in 2015 to 4,173 last year, and Mr. Gehres expects even more this year.

The corps began billing the auto insurance of drivers involved in motor vehicle accidents within the town as of May 1 this year. A Connecticut-based company called Certified Group was selected by the town to do the billing for the corps.

To date, there have been 269 accidents reported, of which 206 required ambulances, according to Mr. Gehres. A total of $205,878 was billed to insurance companies, and the projection for a full year is that $326,301 would be raised from third-party billing, which only applies to auto accidents.

“We might now even have to bond this,” said Supervisor Sean Walter, since the ambulance district also has a $500,000 fund balance. He said the $1.5 million estimate is likely to be low, and that when costs like lighting, curbing and parking are factored in, it could rise.

He suggested a $2 million bond to cover additional costs, although he said the town engineering department should look over the plans first, and come up with its own cost estimates.

“We have to crunch the numbers,” Mr. Walter said at Thursday’s Town Board work session, where the issue was discussed. “This is a fall project, not an end-of-summer project.”

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said the town will need to issue a request for proposals from companies interested in doing the expansion.

The ambulance district covers all properties in the Town of Riverhead with the exception of those in the Wading River Fire District, which has its own ambulance. The Town Board acts as commissioners of the Riverhead ambulance district, which also has its own board of directors.

Mr. Gehres said he contacted four companies for estimates on the expansion, and only of those companies responded.

The third-party billing requires the corps’ to have additional space for medical records.

They are currently using space in Town Hall but officials have suggested using space in the old Railroad Avenue train station, which has been mostly vacant since the LIRR moved out in 1972.

The proposed expansion would include room for files storage and two new ambulance bays, among other things, according to Mr. Gehres. One of their ambulances now is kept outdoors, he said.

Councilman John Dunleavy said a new ambulance building would probably cost between $7 million and $8 million.

“This is going to save us money,” he said.

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Photo credit: Tim Gannon