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Board re-evaluates after fire station proposal fails


TOWNSEND — The chairman of the Fire Station Building Committee is preparing to regroup after a proposal to build a new fire station headquarters was shot down at Town Meeting last week.

Bill Elliott said the committee would spend the summer evaluating concerns residents raised on the location, cost and decision to build one central fire station instead of two smaller stations.

An $11.3 million headquarters had been proposed on Scales Lane to serve both Central and West Townsend and replace four of the town’s five existing stations. The newest station in Townsend Harbor would remain open.

At Town Meeting, residents raised concerns about the amount of traffic on Scales Lane, the distance to the outskirts of town and the cost of building the station.

Elliott said the committee would work to address these concerns, and would consider other options, including building two stations, but said that residents should not expect the price to go down with future proposals. He said a preliminary cost estimate to build two smaller stations came in at $12.5 million.

“Every year this gets pushed off, nothing gets cheaper and interest rates are going to start going up. If we have to wait another whole year, then it doesn’t matter what committee you have, people are going to hear big numbers and you’re going to start to run out of options,” Elliott said.

And with every year the cost goes up, the town’s oldest fire stations will continue to deteriorate. Elliott said he anticipates that the West Townsend station, which was built in 1875, will be inoperable in five years if nothing is done. He said it is simply too small to house the fire trucks that are being manufactured now.

“People dial 911 and they expect good service. They get great service, but it’s going to get harder and harder to provide when stations are being closed,” Elliott said.

Town Administrator Andrew Sheehan said although it is disappointing, he is not surprised that the project failed in its first time before Town Meeting.

“Certainly, it’s a big number and coming on the heels of the high-school project (an $89 million North Middlesex Regional High School new construction project that just passed) it’s understandable that people would have concerns about borrowing for a project of that size,” Sheehan said.

Sheehan said he was unsure if another proposal would be brought before Special Town Meeting in the fall, or if the committee would choose to wait until next spring’s annual Town Meeting.

“Certainly, the need doesn’t go away and we need to do something for our fire facilities to properly house our employees and apparatus. We’ll regroup and try to come up with a more palatable approach in the near term,” Sheehan said.

Elliott urged residents with questions about the proposal to come to the committee’s meetings, rather than waiting until the next Town Meeting to raise their question.

“I’m not upset about the town speaking up the way they did, but I’m a little concerned because we’ve been together as a committee for a year and a half, and all our meetings have been posted, they’ve all been open meetings, and not one person came to our meetings with any concerns or, more importantly, ideas,” Elliott said.

Follow Chelsea Feinstein on Twitter and Tout @CEFeinstein.