GROTON — At a meeting of the Center Fire Station Building Committee held last week, a hearing intended to update the public on progress being made in the effort to construct a new fire station along Farmers Row was thwarted somewhat by insistent residents questioning the whole proposal.
“There’s still a choice,” declared Broadmeadow Road resident Alix Chace, who has begun a petition to place a measure on the town meeting warrant dealing with the need for a new fire station.
The Aug. 8 public hearing had barely begun before Chace and other concerned residents interrupted a prepared presentation by town manager Mark Haddad to pepper the committee with questions.
Claiming that abutters to the Farmers Row property where the planners propose building the new fire station were never notified of the hearing, Chace added that the public was “misled” about the size and cost of the facility by project boosters.
For instance, said Chace, early on in the history of the project, talk had been about building only a 6,000 square foot fire station, a number that had since increased to over 18,500 square feet.
Quick to deny the lower figure, Haddad said that the larger one had been mentioned from the very beginning of the project an assertion supported by former committee member and current selectman Jack Petropoulos.
“I’d like to remind everybody that we’re building a 50 year station,” said committee chairman Susan Daly. “We’re trying to look forward…”
But Daly was interrupted by Chace who called the cost of the building “excessive” and wondered if its size was really necessary.
Haddad, however, pointed out that all those questions were discussed, debated, and settled at town meeting when residents there voted 170 to 44 in favor of both buying the Farmers Row land and paying for a design plan for a facility to be located there.
Farmers Row resident Scott McDonald noted however that the town meeting vote took place late in the evening and that some residents could not stay that late and so their voices were never heard. McDonald also said there were a number of Fire and Police Department employees who had packed town meeting.
“That was pretty intimidating, really,” McDonald said.
Pursuing the point, Chace asked what size the town’s population was and was told by Town Clerk Michael Bouchard that it was about 10,800 of which 7,500 were registered voters.
Chace noted then, that only about 3 percent of the town’s voters made the decision at town meeting to move ahead with the project.
“Our form of government is a town meeting form of government,” said Haddad.
With Haddad’s presentation being seriously side tracked, one resident tried to defuse the situation by asking Chace if she had attended the town meeting where the votes were taken.
Forced to answer, Chace admitted that she had not but that at the time was under the impression that the fire station project was far more limited than it was.
“We realize that a vote like this could divide the community and have tried to keep that from happening,” ameliorated Daly when Chace insisted that the decisions made at town meeting had not represented a proper consensus of Groton’s residents.
As proposed, the new fire station is to include a four bay garage and three story administration complex with offices on the first floor; fitness room, dormitory, kitchen, dining room, and day room planned for the second floor; and HVAC and other mechanical equipment to be placed in the third floor “attic” space.
Cost of the 2.7 acre parcel, which is located along one of the town’s most scenic drives, has been set at $350,000 with a final price tag for the fire station building itself estimated at $7.5 million.
Finance Committee chairman Jay Prager, who also attended last week’s public hearing, listed questions raised by the FinCom including apparent redundancies in the design of the new building and how the size of the building grew to its proposed 18,500 square feet.
“We must consider carefully the size and cost of the project,” cautioned Prager suggesting that maybe the whole thing should be presented as a ballot question so the entire electorate could weigh in on it rather than the few who attend town meeting.
“There may be reasons to put financial bounds on this and I think the taxpayers should have a say in that,” said Prager.
Selectman Anna Eliot explained that the size of the building increased after a professional study was done on the project, something that had been lacking in previous proposals where the square footage was less.
“We’d all like to live in an ideal world but we don’t,” commented Broadmeadow Road resident Lynn Chace about the need for a new station that was a perfect “10.” She backed Prager’s suggestion that the overall question should be left up to the taxpayers.
“We’ve cut back on a lot of stuff,” said fire chief Joseph Bosselait of efforts to keep project costs down.
Last week’s public hearing ended with the conclusion of Haddad’s presentation which outlined such next steps as continued outreach to the public and meetings with the town’s various land use boards as the permitting process moved forward.
The committee will also seek passage of a pair of measures at fall town meeting covering extension of the town’s sewer line to the Farmers Row property where the new station is to be located and a zoning change for the property from agricultural to municipal use.
Meanwhile, Chace said that she will continue to seek support for her citizens’ petition and plans to stand before the 225 Farmers Row property on Tuesday and Thursday evenings through the rest of August between the hours of 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. to collect signatures.
Those interested in learning more about the project can visit the town’s website for information.