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Emotions Run High at Proposed Fire Station Information Session

Those in support or against the measure packed the Chelmsford Senior Center to hear from town officials regarding plans for the building.

Tempers flared during a public information session for the fire station proposal last night.

Residents packed the to listen to and ask questions of Town Manager Paul Cohen, Chelmsford Permanent Building Committee Chairman Pat Maloney, as well as other town officials regarding the town’s proposal to build a new central fire station at 50 Billerica Road, adjoining the town offices.

A ballot question asking for resident support for the proposed fire station passed by 297 votes in .

Maloney began the meeting by outlining a feasibility study initially discussed by the Permanent Building Committee in 2008 regarding the fire department's fate, including replacing the floor of the Center Fire Station, adding on to the existing building, and a 5th option—the ultimate recommendation of the Permanent Building Committee—the construction of a “full headquarters."

While many locations have been suggested for the proposed fire station in recent years, including land on Drum Hill Road, the corners of Wilson and Chelmsford Streets, and the old Chelmsford Police station, these have fallen through for reasons varying from cost, delayed response time, to feasibility of construction.

The argument for a 50 Billerica Road construction is several fold, according to the presentation: the proposed building will take advantage of approximately 3,000 square feet of office space in the town offices, will save cost and space, and will keep the fire station centrally located and close to the current building’s location.

The current Center Fire Station, built in 1955, has many structural and space concerns, including cramped and inadequate storage and facility space, crumbling and cracked foundations, and flooding in basement areas.

The new building hopes to solve those issues with a new construction that will more than double the useable space from 8,915 to 19,489 square feet, including more storage, office, work, and maneuverable room for vehicles and equipment.

According to engineering firm hired by the town for the project, the estimated cost for the construction is $7,766,795, accounting for $6.1 million in building costs and $1.665 in remaining “soft” costs: print, advertising, furnishings, testing, and a contingency budget. 

Passions were at a high, with both proponents and opponents taking the microphone to ask questions of town officials. Residents who didn’t live near the proposed station were concerned with traffic related to location, how the fire station might interfere with town hall proceedings, and the ability of fire trucks to  navigate Summer and Wilson Streets, among other things.

For resident Kevin Ross, who lives directly adjacent to the planned station, the proposal hit a little closer to home: literally. According to Ross, the fire station will disrupt the community that he lives in, interfere with sleep, the general peace, and the beauty of the neighborhood. He also believed that town government didn’t give residents in his neighborhood enough warning about projected building plans, nor did he believe that the delegation were taking the homeowners’ desires into full consideration.

“Come to our neighborhood, ask us what we need,” he said to the presenters. “Once you open Pandora’s box there’s no putting it back in. It looks like a good plan, next to your house maybe? I don’t understand how it got this far.”

“You can mitigate until the cows come home,” said another resident who lives on Billerica Rd. “They say it’s location, location, location, and this is the wrong location.”

Bob Joyce, a town meeting representative from Precinct 1, said he "is for the fire station," but believes the ideal place is at the previously discussed location at the corner of Wilson and Chelmsford Streets.

Joyce believes that the 50 Billerica Road location has inherent disadvantages. The plan for the building doesn’t take future growth into account, and doesn’t have “sufficient space for further expansion,” according to Joyce.

“Fifty years from now, we want to expand the station because we’ve got 19 ambulances, you can’t expand, it’s full up,” he said as an example. “A fire station should have drive through bays."

Bill Griffin, a town meeting representative from Precinct 9, voiced his support for the progress in the plans and for what he believed was addressing a key concern in the town’s infrastructure.

“The town has taken several important steps as a community to try to address those needs,” he said. “This is a need-to-have,” he said of the new fire station, “and what disappoints me is that I see a community here that almost doesn’t know what it wants.”

Maloney made sure to tell residents that what they were seeing was not set in stone.

“In the end, what you’re seeing is a concept, there’ll be changes along the way,” he said. He also spoke to criticism about the Building Committee’s perceived lack of communication with the neighborhood, saying that the members had tried to work with community concerns.

“We hear these things, so, is it the perfect place? I can’t tell you that,” he said. “This was what the next step was after Chelmsford and Wilson Street failed (…), this is where we went.”

“The conclusion is, no site is perfect,” said Town Manager Paul Cohen. “Had there been a perfect site and a perfect cost, it would have been done years ago, either five years ago or twenty years ago. What we have we believe is the most economical and most effective plan that we believe will get support in this community.”

You can look at more documents for the proposed fire station here.

Paul Creme April 20, 2012 at 02:36 PM
Jeff and Phil, What correction. I am well aware of the fact that two bays are unusable; thus the question,why are 5 needed now. Why does the size have to increase by a factor of more that two. We have other stations that were not around when the current location came on line in 1952. The town has not grown much in the past 10 years and will probably not grow much in the near future. I was not refering to the recall, like anyone with an agenda, Phil you read what you wanted. I said after the first sentence which addressed the past, "as for those..". Finally, I am not in favor of another empty building in town. The mistake with the sale of the north road property in the past was the poorly worded restriction, not the sale. I have read everything and have followed this from the beginning, I remain unconvinced that the station needs to be this size and cost this much. As far as why it has taken this long, I can only point to the people in charge all this time.
Tony April 20, 2012 at 02:38 PM
300 votes are in the majority of voters who voted in the last election. As far as I'm concerned those who didn't vote don't deserve to be counted among the minority of voters who did vote--AS THEY SHOULD HAVE IF THEY WERE REALLY INTERESTED IN DEFEATING THE STATION PROPOSAL. So this argument is bogus. Also, if you did your homework and visited the old station, as most of us who favor the proposal have, you would know that the current station has 5 bays. I'll leave it to you to figure out where they are.
Peter Eliopoulos April 20, 2012 at 02:46 PM
@Paul Creme, I'm Peter not Philip.
Phil stanway April 20, 2012 at 02:53 PM
Paul yes I have and agenda. 1) Have people look at the new fire station and evaluate it on its own merits. 2) Support the CFD to get a safe station and protect the investment in equipment. 3) Have the town NEVER sell any land it owns in the town center area EVER. .
Phil stanway April 20, 2012 at 03:01 PM
I am looking at the lay out of the 5 bays in the presentation and the equipment. What equipment do people think should be stored elsewhere or they do not think is needed and where it should be stored? I look it over and I can't think of equipment that can move but I ask the question maybe some is not needed?
Joanne April 20, 2012 at 03:35 PM
Morning Paul, Take yourself a nice sunny day ride today out to Dracut on Rt. 113 ( Pleasant St.). There is an almost brand new station there. Instead of what we have seen in Chelmsford on conceptual drawings, you can see a big sprawling 5-bay station on the ground. It is just about as long across as what they want to put on Billerica Rd.. It is behemoth! And it come with lots of traffic lightss free standing and overhead, as well as numerous warning signs. It is overwhelming to me to imagine that size of a building across the street. We already have the town hall. It is occupied from 8 in the morning till 8-9-10 at night. When people come out from there meetings, we can hear their conversations (not mumbles), we hear car doors, car engines, and see car lights at that time. No one is going to convince me that we aren't going to hear a pin drop with all the mitigations built into the fire station. And with the town hall and fire station attached, will be staring across the road at over 250' of brick building. Even with softend alarms and bells and whistles, and every other thing they want to include, there is no way that we can "forget" it being there, any more than we can ignore the town hall. I'm being very serious, not trying to be argumentative- please do yourself a favor and take yourself for a ride to the Dracut station. I think you might be l little shocked at the size.
Paul Creme April 20, 2012 at 03:43 PM
Phil, We can respectively disagree I remain unconvinced that the magnitude and cost are warranted. I have no problem with the need for a new station. I also respect your position as to open land, but the property where to old station is located will not be best used as empty or with the Dutton House being moved there, in my opinion. It would be nice to recoup some of the expense of the new station.
Paul Creme April 20, 2012 at 03:47 PM
Tony, Lets do some math, two bays are not used. Why are 5 needed. When the station was built how many other stations were on line. Thus we had 5 at some point we now have many more when you factor in the new stations. Secondly I said nothing about people who did not vote. We have no way of knowing what they would have done, so who cares. My point, if you read it was that the win was by a wide margin.
Kathleen J Murphy April 20, 2012 at 04:30 PM
@Phil, I believe we need the five bay station. I also still believe WilsonSt is the right location. It is in a commercially zoned area. It also allows for future expansion. It allows for drive through bays. They can use the office space at TH. Therefore, the price can be less than the second proposal. Also it will take more money to prep the TH site. Do you have any response to this? The question on the ballot was about the money. Obviously the town wants to pay that much. The vote on the warrant I believe states the 6?acres adjacent to TH which I wouls guess includes WilsonSt. Can you explain this to me? I am an abutter at Billerica Rd and I have questions about this plan. Thank you
Mark April 20, 2012 at 04:32 PM
http://eminentdomain.uslegal.com/state-laws-on-eminent-domain/massachusetts/ Just saying ...
Kathleen J Murphy April 20, 2012 at 04:35 PM
So I guess my overall feeling about this proposal is this: Unforeseen costs in excavating hill. More costs to reinforce hill. No ability to expand (ambulance bays etc) Rediential area original town study did not have this as ideal site
Paul Creme April 20, 2012 at 04:44 PM
Sorry for the mistake, but the point remains the same. I have no idea why you would want to get into that battle. It is over.
Phil stanway April 20, 2012 at 04:52 PM
Apparatus to be Stored in Apparatus Bay :• Rescue 2 • Engine 1 • Rescue 1 (Heavy Rescue) • S-1 Command Vehicle • F-1 • F-2 • Boat • Haz Mat • Reserve 1 • S-3 Brush • Reserve 2 • F-3 • F-4 • Light Trailer this is the list of all the equipment that would be stored at the new station. to reduce the number of bays what equipment would people drop? and Why?.
Kathleen J Murphy April 20, 2012 at 04:53 PM
Oh and I meant to say no drive through bays preferred by fire department
Tony April 20, 2012 at 05:13 PM
Paul: Not all bays can be used currently since the two are used to shore up the station floor and fire equipment that would normally occupy these bays is scattered among the remaining substations. If you are familiar with Chief Curran's presentation regarding the need for 5 bays, then you'll know why they are required.
Paul Creme April 20, 2012 at 05:16 PM
What do they do with it now, where is it stored. The fact is the square footage in more than twice the current space.
Tony April 20, 2012 at 05:20 PM
The Dracut station was built around 10 years ago at a cost of $3.5M. It is a simple, cinder block design that probably wouldn't meet Chelmsford Historical standards and would be more expensive to build today for many reasons. But aside from that, I've talked to several people who have built new stations recently and I was told the cost estimate for the new proposal was quite good. For a town the size of Chelmsford a ballpark figure is approximately $10M so the $8M figure for the new station isn't bad considering it's all brick design and integration with the design of the Town Hall,
Paul Creme April 20, 2012 at 05:22 PM
Tony, What he wants does not mean it is true. I want a bigger house, I have to buy it first. I am sure he would like as much as he can get.
Christina Walsh April 20, 2012 at 06:06 PM
Paul, I watched the public input session a few weeks ago and the Chief talked about the need for having critical pieces of equipment parked in a central location to increase response time. Right now, since there is not enough space, these trucks are parked at some of the outlying stations which is not ideal for public safety.
Kathleen J Murphy April 20, 2012 at 06:42 PM
Why do I feel like the invisible abutter?
Peter Eliopoulos April 20, 2012 at 06:47 PM
@Paul Creme- I only stick my nose into this when Combs and Reed bring up the same dribble about my families business interests in this town. Read their previous posts if you want to know why I even respond to their manure.
Paul April 20, 2012 at 07:29 PM
Paul, Growth in population has not increased that much, but what about housing? This problem can be easily solved by removing the 9 North building and rebuilding/reparing the existing structure. We can all congratulate our town manager, selectmen, and the Eliopoulos clan for this mess.
Brad Rigby April 20, 2012 at 08:56 PM
Kathleen, I can imagine why you're feeling that way, as nobody (almost) is actually engaging with your very calmly expressed points (they are instead focusing on sniping at each other). I for one appreciate that you, as a direct neighbor to the proposed site, are expressing these points in a measured, reasonable manner. It’s possible there are technical reasons your approach wouldn’t work – I don’t know. I think that would have be addressed by the actual project planners involved (I will suggest that Phil Stanway, while a staunch defender of open space in town, isn’t the one to whom you need to look for answers to your questions – probably why he, at least, hasn’t tried to answer you). I’m inclined to favor the current proposal (compared to going back to the drawing board yet again), but have no doubt that there are aspects that could be improved. I don't envy the Town Meeting Reps in whose hands this decision will be – while many support the need to build a station, there is no location identified that won’t make some people unhappy (including Wilson St, I suspect). I sincerely hope they will value and weigh your inputs with all other factors they have to consider - but I also hope that if they vote the current plan down, they don't do so with the mindset that they can wait and vote for a "better plan" that nobody will be opposed to, because I'm not convinced there can ever be such a plan.
Phil April 20, 2012 at 10:31 PM
Get your popcorn.....this is getting good. Too bad only a handful of town residents read the "Patch".
Paul Eriksen April 20, 2012 at 10:32 PM
Joanne, my job takes me all over the state so I see dozens of stations every week and have seen the Dracut station to many times to count. I would say that 80% of the stations I see are in residential neighborhoods. Some small and some large. Just because they are proposing a 5 bay station, it will not be as large as the Dracut station. I trust that the town will take your concerns to heart when they plan the actual station and traffic controls. I have to ask this question, Did you have a vested interest in the new station when they were talking about putting the station on Wilson St?
Kathleen J Murphy April 21, 2012 at 12:51 AM
Thank you Brad. I agree with all you said. It will not be the end of the world if it passes. I do agree the fire department would be a decent neighbor. I am worried I will have alot of trouble selling my house in the future.I hope this proposal gives the fire department what they need for now and the future. It is pretty much out of my hands at this point. I have said my peace and will move forward.
Joanne April 21, 2012 at 02:04 AM
Paul, for whatever reason, your next question down to me didn't have a reply button. I tried to answer at the bottom, and it didn't go through. I do not have the same confidence in the town as you, apparently. My husband and I went to Dracut to measure that building and take pictures. Their 5-bays are almost exactly as long as the ones on the current drawings for Billerica Rd. (88-89 ft). Believe it our not, their whole building is comparable in size to the Chelmsford drawings. We then measured from the left corner of our town hall to the right end of the parking lot up to the guard rail. The current drawings show the new building (attached to the town hall) as over 250 ft.- actually reaching over the right guard rail. I haven't heard anyone talking about making it smaller. I'm not sure what you meant about my interest in Wilson St. At the time I thought it was still too close but I didn't want prop 2 1/2. With what's being planned now, Wilson St. sounds better, and access to Rt.110 would be easier.
David April 21, 2012 at 02:51 PM
Paul, With all due respect, the Wilson Street proposal was voted down by a margin of only 400 votes the first time around. One could argue that a lot of those people were voting on the debt exclusion and the fear of their taxes going up, not voting against the station altogether. As for the size and cost of the proposed station: The current station has 5 bays, not all of which are usable due to deteriorating conditions. If the current station is inadequate and undersized(which is what the research has told us), why should/would the town rebuild a smaller station? Due to the unstable nature of construction costs and potential issues that can arise during the building process, the estimates given are "usually" on the high side... Wilson Street gives the town the ability to expand in the future(if necessary) and is in the middle of a commercial zone, satisfying those on Billerica Road. We have one shot to get this thing right and protect ourselves going forward, it doesn't make sense to cut corners? As I stated before, why isn't there an option to build a new station on Wilson Street with Fire Administration offices occupying the existing space in Town Hall that will be available when the Alpha Road project is completed?
Joanne April 21, 2012 at 04:16 PM
Paul, I received an email a little bit ago that you had written again, but I can't find it here. Anyway, your suggestion has come a many times including at the meeting. In fact my husband talked with the fire chief and asked the same question. If that went through, even if I wouldn't be totally thrilled about Wilson Street, I could live with that rather than the station across the street.
Tony April 21, 2012 at 04:59 PM
It wasn't an "I want" situation. He laid out what he couldn't house in the station because of it's deteriorated infrastructure.

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