By Don Eriksson
PEPPERELL– A 6-foot-high office divider blocks most of the computer screens in the Communication Center from the view of anyone looking through the reinforced glass window from the police station lobby.
The window can be a busy spot during off hours, when fire Chief Toby Tyler and police officers are not in residence.
The blocking screen is a stopgap measure installed to meet federal requirements that private information on the monitors must not be visible to the public. It was installed after town meeting voters unanimously shot down Communication Director Frank Quattrochi’s request for money to install a raised floor and turn the communications consoles around.
Asked how things were going, the dispatcher on duty answered, “Fine. We keep bundled up.”
“What do you mean?” he was asked.
“We don’t have any heat at night. The console blocks the broken thermostat and we haven’t got the money to move the console to fix it,” he replied.
“No heat at all?”
“Well, we either have 100 percent heat and sit here in a T-shirt, or nothing and we put our coats on oh, and the window’s still broken,” he said.
“Yeah, something’s wrong with the old counterweights. Last summer we went to open it and it slammed shut on the fingers of (one) of the dispatchers,” he said.
When they were put in place more than 20 years ago, the communications consoles were installed close to the heating and air conditioning ducts. There is no room to repair the broken thermostat short of moving the massive desks.
In its efforts to keep departmental budget requests at or below its recommended caps, the Finance Committee has twice refused to support Quattrochi’s requests for funds to move the consoles.
The money would have also installed a raised floor, with room for telephone and other wires so they wouldn’t continue to be stepped on. The raised floor would have also covered worn out carpeting that insurance inspectors have insisted must be replaced.
The total request was for $12,000 with about $5,000 of that amount used for the federally mandated console move.
FinCom members asked Quattrochi what would happen if inspectors found the consoles were not in compliance. He said they would be told the problem is being worked, on which generally suffices. It is unlikely but possible that the center could be ordered closed, he said.
Finance Committee members focused on Quattrochi’s explanation of the security needs, recommending a portable screen because estimates to move the consoles came in at $200 per hour due to the complexity of the wiring.
When advised of the heating issue, town administrator Robert Hanson said neither his budget nor selectmen’s contains money to fix the problem but that police Chief Alan Davis has a maintenance line item in his budget.
Chief Davis — who has argued each year for a new municipal safety complex or at least completion of renovations planned 20 years ago — said his maintenance budget doesn’t have $5,000 that could be spared for the consoles. His account handles more routine problems.
It was the chief’s account, for example, that was tapped last year to remove a bat infestation from the unoccupied third floor of the old school building, and to fix leaking water pipes.
“It’s an old building,” Davis said, “In fact, we have to hire a plumber each year to turn all the valves in the basement to switch from heat to air conditioning.”
At the May 2007 Annual Town Meeting, Quattrochi’s warrant article to purchase and install the flooring, and to relocate the radio console and “related equipment,” was unanimously defeated.
Finance Committee member Jeanne LeBlanc suggested blocking the view of the consoles with a screen because “we’re going to build another building.”
FinCom Chairman Diane Gaspar argued that privacy is not an issue, citing how, for example, the police log is public information. She recommended against spending the $200 per hour for the console move, saying, “We’re hurting very badly (financially). I can’t say it enough.”
Some of the “related equipment” in the article was replacement of two 30-year-old dispatch telephones whose transfer buttons are worn out, and of a 19-inch touch screen that controls police radios and is replaced every other year.
“It’s my fault I didn’t stress enough the need to fix the thermostat when the Finance Committee focused on the talks about security,” Quattrochi said last week.
“It’s going to be fixed. I just don’t have the money to do it,” Quattrochi said. “I’m going to ask for a Reserve Account transfer.”