Plans for Billerica Road Fire Station Presented
Selectmen also agreed to put a non-binding question on the ballot asking voters how they feel about funding the station within the property tax levy.
The Permanent Building Committee last night presented preliminary plans to the Board of Selectmen for a new center fire station to be built adjacent to the Town Offices in what is now the upper parking lot.
Pat Maloney, chairman of the Permanent Building Committee, addressed concerns from residents regarding whether or not the current station could be repaired.
Maloney said the current 60-year-old fire station's lot is far too small and poses safety concerns, in addition to challenges that would be faced complying with building codes, Americans with Disabilities Act codes, energy and seismic codes when it comes to repairing the building."
"If you were to consider tearing the building down and putting another one up, the lot size at 10,000 square feet is still too small," he said. Because the current bays are too small for the trucks, they must all be outside for the firefighters to perform work on them, Maloney said. However when the trucks are outside the lack of space between the trucks and the street is a safety concern, he said.
"The bumper of (one of the trucks) infringes in the street, and to walk around it, it’s a safety situation, so to reconstruct something there ... it's a problem with the lot size and depth of the lot," he said.
The committee had initially considered the rear of the Town Offices for a fire station, but Maloney said too many access issues would have to be solved to keep cars from driving on a fire station access road that would have to be established.
The proposed new station would be constructed in the current upper parking lot, keeping some parking in the front of the town offices but adding significant parking in the rear of the building.
"Trucks would enter onto Billerica road, (the fire chief) feels response times would be enhanced as opposed to if the station were located on the back side of the building," said Maloney.
The proposal would also renovate some town office space and put the fire station's administrative offices and fire prevention in town office space that is currently not being used. Additional meeting space and training space could be constructed within the town offices.
The proposal includes five bays, kitchen space and a day room for the firefighters.
Maloney said the benefits of this project include renovation of existing and unused town office space, shared meeting space, no acquisition costs, additional parking would be provided and construction would improve the rear property.
Maloney said the target cost would be about $7.5 million, but those costs have not been validated and the committee will need to do more research.
"Recycling would probably end up at the DPW facility, where it should be," said Maloney. Town Manager Paul Cohen said the food pantry would be relocated though it may still involve the rear parking lot area behind the town offices.
"We’d absolutely do screening to mitigate sound and light issues for the neighbors…(there was) concern about sounding of alarms within the station. If a door is open during the day, you might hear it, but under normal circumstances you won't hear it. There would be no outside alarms here and sirens and lights wouldn't be used until the trucks cross through an intersection or if there is traffic," said Maloney.
Maloney called the proposal one of the town's better ones of the past few years. He also said he would be happy to meet with residents or put together information sessions for residents who have questions.
"We don’t know where to go from here if this doesn’t (happen)," he said. "Unless you tried to rehabilitate…you’d pay a hefty sum for a building that won't stand the 50 to 100 year test. Should this not go forward I don’t know what to bring up next, short of acquiring land the town doesn’t own…barring this one or any other plan, I don’t know what else we could do."
Selectman Jim Lane suggested if the proposal goes forward, some type of traffic study should be done in the area. Lane said with its close proximity to Center School, there could be conflicts with school busses going in and out of the area, which could be a problem the event of an emergency.
Cohen said paying for the fire station could be done within the 2.5% tax levy, with the town's current excluded debt decreasing on projects such as the sewer project, school building projects and Department of Public Works facility.
"As we are paying off excluded debt, we would replace the existing debt declining with new debt, and it would have a level affect on the tax rate," said Cohen.
Projects funded in a similar way include Adams Library renovations and the Police Station, Cohen said.
"A few years ago we lost state aid and (with the state) addressing the major cost of health insurance, (that cost is) going down, so that’s what’s different," Cohen said. " ... This being critical need, it was my decision to make this within our operating budget because at end of the day we need to address the fire station space. We don’t have unlimited time. Even if you patch it, you don’t have an adequate station."
Slides with more information on the finances can be viewed as photos above.
Selectmen agreed to put a non-binding question on the ballot for the April 3 election, which will read: "Shall the town pay debt service for a new center fire station adjacent to the town offices from the existing property tax levy? (This fire station would not be financed by a prop 2.5% debt exclusion.)"
Selectmen agreed the question is a good way to get voter feedback on the issue.
"I think this is a great idea, it’s a good transparent approach to poll taxpayers and voters about how they feel about paying out of the existing tax levy," said Lane. "I want make sure this does not mean that we are agreeing to the proposal and we’re attached. It's an attempt to see how the public responds to the question."
The decision to place a question on the ballot was unanimous.
"I hope the people take the time to understand, even though it’s a non binding referendum, we’ll listen to that," said Selectmen Chairman George Dixon.
The full presentation of the proposed fire station can be viewed on the town's website.