STRATFORD — For once, Fire Chief Ronald Nattrass had good news about the long-delayed new fire headquarters. "We have a grand opening scheduled on Sept. 7 and we're going to be moving into the building on the 12th," Nattrass said Wednesday, shortly after the Town Council allowed the project's contractor to finish the building. "Now we'll be moving in the dispatch in December and should have the full dispatch center in place by March."

Town Council Chairman Joseph G. Crudo, R-at-large, had called a special meeting Wednesday night to determine whether the council should put the firehouse's new dispatch room out to bid or let A. Secondario & Son, of Branford, finish the job. The council approved letting Secondario complete the centralized dispatch center via a "change order" estimated at about $350,000.

Crudo called the vote "the appropriate thing to do.

"The contractor is already on site," he said. "Now there's no wait for the equipment or the manpower to move in."

The new headquarters building has suffered numerous setbacks since it was first envisioned about two decades ago. Earlier this year, the work was to be completed by June. John Connell, the former fire chief for whom the facility will be named, spearheaded the effort to build the new headquarters during his tenure as chief from 1987 to 1992. Earlier this month, Councilman James Feehan, R-9, took exception to a contract proposed by Town Manager Benjamin Branyan awarding the centralized dispatch center to Secondario; Feehan contended that the work for the contract should go out to bid.

Councilman Michael F. Henrick, R-10, said the town would have had to pay more for a temporary dispatch service while the contract was out to bid. "It would have been an additional $20,000," he said. "With this contractor, he knows where all the tie-ups are."

Prompted by council member Alvin O'Neal, D-2, Nattrass said he was content with Secondario's work on the project. Councilman Angelo Stavola, D-2, explaining the bidding process to resident Madeline Neupert, said the firehouse is almost complete — besides the dispatch center. Neupert had asked the council to clarify the process during the public comment portion of the meeting.

"It's just one big empty room while the rest of the firehouse is almost done," he said. Putting the dispatch room out to bid again could have backfired financially, Stavola said. "If we had put this out for bid, the cost could come out significantly higher than that," he said.

Frank Washkuch Jr., who covers Stratford, can be reached at 330-6287.