COLLEGEVILLE - The need for additional space is obvious, but the Collegeville Fire Company remains in limbo with its $1 million expansion plans due to legal action from neighboring Ursinus College.

During a meeting Friday to kick off activities for Fire Prevention Week, community officials and department members gathered to discuss the current state of the plans.

The department wants to expand its headquarters on Fifth Avenue, which were constructed in the 1950s, by 3,300 square feet to 8,500 square feet. Talk of the expansion began two years ago, officials said, and sketch plans were first submitted in October 2003.

At the center of the controversy is a 90-foot area of land at the corner of Main Street and Fifth Avenue that is owned by the fire department.

Ursinus College appealed the approval of several variances by the borough zoning hearing board concerning the department's plans. The department said the college wants to purchase and use the land for their own purposes, including a walkway connecting the campus to the downtown business district.

A ruling in the case, which was filed in Montgomery County Court, sent the plans back to the zoning hearing board for additional clarification. That is where the plans currently remain.

"We have been told that the college will continue to appeal the legitimate zoning hearing board decision 'all the way to the Supreme Court,'" said Dale Bondanza, president of the department. He maintained, however, the department will move forward with its building plans, though members' morale has suffered from the battle.

The department also claims the college has "ransomed" half of the $3,996 donation made each year to the all-volunteer organization due to the current battle over the land.

Engineer Jerry Gorski said the department investigated building elsewhere in the borough, but no area provided enough space for the headquarters or maneuverability for the fire trucks.

Members of Collegeville Borough Council who attended Friday's meeting commended the department members for their work and continued to offer support for their cause.

"There's lots of emotions (with this situation)," said Council President Chuck Draksler. "This is very volatile."

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