The fire station project on South Third Street in Lehighton is nearing completion.

Lehighton Borough Manager Nicole Beckett, who has been a coordinator for the project, said she anticipates the new facilities could be occupied as soon as early December.

She said the project won't be completed by then, but the building will be able to be occupied.

The project includes the addition of several new bays, office space, and shower facilities. The new bays connect the Lehigh Fire Company No. 1 building with Station 2, the Engine Company No. 2 building.

Previously, several houses separated the two facilities. Officials said this created dangerous conditions for responders to fires who often had to run from one building to the other to put on fire gear and respond to fires.

The houses were purchased by Lehigh Fire Company No. 1, the social quarters of the Lehighton Fire Department, and then demolished to make way for the addition.

New doors have been installed on the two existing fire stations, making them compatible with the doors on the new bays.

The project also included rehabilitation of the two fire stations.

Ground for the project was broken on April 11.

Steve Ebbert, chairman of the building committee, said the project actually began with the borough's Comprehensive Plan in 1994, which called for the consolidation of the two fire stations. The fire department included the consolidation of the two stations into its long range plan in 1998.

He said there was thought given to moving the location of the fire department, but it was decided this is the ideal site since it is centrally located and close to the downtown area, the Lehighton Hi Rise, the hospital, and school buildings.

"The greatest benefit of this project is to provide our firefighters with a safe working environment," Ebbert said. "With all apparatus being housed in a common area the response time will be improved."

He said the project got a kick start several years ago when borough officials and the late Jack Kuller, a former fire chief, met with then State Representative Keith McCall to investigate whether there was grant money available.

"It was through Speaker McCall's efforts that the borough was able to secure a grant for $1.5 million," said Ebbert.

He said Sen. John Yudichak worked closely with him and Beckett and obtained an additional $250,000 of RACP funds. State Rep. Doyle Heffley and Yudichak then obtained another $223,650 LSA grant toward the project.

The senator said the fact that the state gave $2 million toward the project "demonstrates the important work you do as firefighters."

Ebbert said the building committee, consisting of 13 members, organized in the spring of 2009.

Building committee members besides he and Ebbert are Assistant Fire Chief Patrick Mriss, Paul Mriss, Michael Mriss, Rodney Rehnert, Doug Nothstein, Larry Diehl, Dave Oswald, Dan Oswald, Jason Nothstein, Joe Flickinger and Scott Nothstein.

Fire Chief Gary Frable noted that Lehigh Fire Company No. 1 has made significant contributions towards the project.