Amid doubts, officials say public has spoken on firehouse


GROTON — With a key special Town Meeting vote in the offing for early next year, members of the Finance Committee continued to express reservations about a new Center Fire Station proposed for land along Farmers Row.

The Finance Committee met on the evening of Nov. 27 with Town Manager Mark Haddad, fire chief Joseph Bosselait, members of the Center Fire Station Building Committee, and architects for the project to discuss the issue of the facility, which has weathered a number of votes at previous Town Meetings.

Convincing committee members is important for the project as its chances of gaining the approval of residents at special Town Meeting would be enhanced if the Finance Committee were to vote to recommend building the new station.

However, as at past meetings between the Finance Committee and proponents of the new fire station, some members of the committee were still unconvinced as to the need for an estimated $7.5 million facility.

In fact, one of the points raised at the Nov. 27 meeting was the question of the actual cost of the project, with committee member Robert Hargraves wanting to know why the $7.5 million figure was always referred to when the actual price was more like $8.1 million if the price of the Farmers Row land and other costs were factored in.

“To be fair to the people, the $8.1 million number should be put out there,” Hargraves told Haddad.

In reply, Haddad said that is what has been done.

“I think we’ve been consistent about that,” said Haddad.

“Well then, we’ve got to put out the total number every time we talk about it,” said Hargraves.

“Fair enough,” agreed Haddad.

When asked about what it would cost to maintain the new facility beyond the construction price, town accountant Valerie Jenkins said the town would need to spend $50,000 a year for utilities and janitorial services.

Finance Committee Chairman Jay Prager followed up by asking what impact on Fire Department performance would there be if the appropriation measure were defeated at special Town Meeting?

In response, Haddad admitted that there would be no change in services or response-time to emergencies.

“That’s not going to change,” assured the town manager.

Bosselait, however, differed on the issue. In reply to a question by Hargraves about the under utilization of the Lost Lake substation, the chief said the new Center Fire Station would make a difference.

“It makes sense to have both fire and EMS under one roof,” explained Bosselait. “It will make for a faster response.”

Bosselait reminded Hargraves that Groton was geographically quite a large town and that the department had to “cover a lot of ground” making the Lost Lake and West Groton substations necessary adjuncts to a new 18,500-square-foot Center Fire Station.

As proposed, the new facility is to be located on a 2.7-acre parcel along Farmers Row which will cost the town $350,000.

The building itself is to include a four-bay garage and two-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.

The size of the facility was another factor brought into question by the committee, with Prager wondering why so much space was needed when earlier proposals had less.

In reply, Haddad explained that three different sizes had been considered and after due review and analysis, the proposed 18,500-square-foot size was chosen based in part on what the average has been for new stations built by other towns similar to Groton.

“I’m not saying I’m opposed to this, but when you say we absolutely need this, I take umbrage at that,” said Prager, going on to ask if the town really needed a building the size that was being proposed.

The town manager pointed out that the issue of building a new fire station had already demonstrated support from the public with three crucial votes: one to buy the Farmers Row land, one to appropriate $800,000 to pay for design plans, and another defeating a citizens’ petition to reverse the earlier decisions.

“I think that the town supports what we did,” summed up Haddad.

“I don’t dispute that,” said Prager.

“I think we’ve done a good job,” said Haddad of the work of the Building Committee and its architects.

With that, the hearing ended.

Also at the Nov. 27 meeting, the committee was given a presentation by the Lost Lake Association of the deteriorating conditions at Lost Lake due to out-of-control invasive plants that threaten to turn the body of water into a swamp.

The association is seeking an appropriation from residents of $100,000 to pay for the use of a herbicide called Sonar that will be used to treat the lake water and kill the weeds.

The appropriation question will be presented to voters at special Town Meeting for a decision.

Special Town Meeting is scheduled for Feb. 2.

Members of the Finance Committee are expected to consider the information received on both the fire station and Lost Lake and decide on recommendations prior to special Town Meeting.