GROTON — The Center Fire Station Building Committee continued its efforts this week to include residents over the course of its evaluation of sites being considered as the location of a new fire station.
At a public hearing held April 4, town officials and concerned residents filled most of the seats in the Town Hall’s upper conference hall to receive a run down of the selection process so far and to provide input to planners.
The committee was appointed by selectmen to sift through potential sites for a new fire station from many that had been rejected in prior searches.
Earlier efforts to find a location for a new Center Fire Station fell through when residents at town meeting refused to approve a Main Street parcel owned by the archdiocese of Boston that had been suggested by town officials.
One of the complaints raised at the time involved the selection process which many residents not only felt had not been thorough enough, but that was made without enough input by the public.
The Center Fire Station Building Committee has tried to rectify that shortcoming with its public hearings including last week’s where chairman John Petropoulos informed those attending that the group had narrowed the field of potential sites to three: the Lawrence Homestead Trust property adjacent to the town’s Public Safety Building along Farmers Row, the former Prescott School building on Main Street, and land owned by the Groton Electric Light Department (GELD) off Station Avenue.
Petropoulos opened the hearing by going through the various advantages and disadvantages of each site as well as the estimated cost to develop them: $7,400,000 (minus the price of the land) for the Lawrence Homestead; $8,340,000 for Station Avenue; and $8,512,875 for the Prescott building.
A suggested floor plan for the new station was also unveiled that included enough room on two floors to cover the possibility of the Fire Department becoming a full-time enterprise sometime in the future.
Also noted was that the size of the proposed building (which was compared to that of Ayer’s new Central Fire Station) was intended to accommodate the department’s ambulances which are currently housed at the Public Safety Building.
When asked what would happen to the extra space at the Public Safety Building, town manager Mark Haddad said it would be used by the Police Department.
A question by Groton Electric Light Commissioner Chris Christie asking why the current Station Avenue fire station could not remain in service for smaller vehicles or parking so as to reduce the footprint of a new building across the street was dismissed by Fire Chief Joseph Bosselait who insisted that consolidation of all department vehicles and equipment under one roof would be more efficient.
“It makes sense,” said Bosselait of the suggestion, “but it doesn’t make sense to us.”
The size of a new fire station building is a crucial aspect of the proposal for all three of the sites under consideration. But none moreso than Station Avenue where the planned structure would crowd a new office/garage complex planned by GELD for the same location.
There, a design plan for the garage complex intrudes upon a 50 foot buffer zone surrounding nearby wetlands, an intrusion that has resulted in the Conservation Commission rejecting GELD’s plan and forcing the department to refashion its plans and re-apply with the ConsCom.
Other concerns raised by those attending last week’s hearing included response times from the various sites, where the access would be if the Lawrence Homestead property were chosen, harm to the viewshed over Farmers Row if the station were to be located there, and how efforts to remove the new station from sight of Farmers Row would impact its role as a “safe haven” for the public.
Promising to consider residents’ input on the issue, Petropoulos concluded the hearing by admitting that deciding which site was the most suitable would not be an easy one, especially as there were good reasons to choose or not to choose any of them.
In the meantime, the public was invited to accompany committee members on a visit to the Ayer Central Fire Station to get an idea of what the new station in Groton might look like.
In the immediate future, the committee expected to follow GELD’s re-application with the ConsCom, consider cost reduction options for each of the three sites, conclude negotiations with the Lawrence Homestead Trust, evaluate the impact a new station would have on traffic and pedestrian safety at each of the three sites and integrate public input into the ongoing discussion.