PEPPERELL — Mold, structural issues, and just not enough space has the Building Committee seeking serious solutions for the town’s aging and deteriorating police and fire stations.
At the Annual Town Meeting Saturday the Building Committee will ask for $180,000 for an Owner’s Project Manager to determine whether the needs warrant a new building or an extensive renovation.
“We’ve basically reached the limit of our expertise as a committee and we’re bringing in professionals to get us to the next level,” said Town Administrator Andrew MacLean.
MacLean said the town has already engaged in conversations with one OPM finalist, Vertex Engineering, who will assess suitable sites in town, including the Peter Fitzpatrick School and the open land next to the Jersey Street fire station. The OPM will also help determine the design and the project’s price tag.
Building Committee member Joseph LoBuono said at the town’s Civic Engagement Night last week that 5 acres of land would ideally be needed for the project.
In 2014, the police station underwent a mold remediation effort. Chief of Police David Scott said that after the project was completed, he was told removing all of the mold would not be possible without gutting the building. It was also recommended to him that the department keep the windows open year-round to improve air circulation, however, the windows are so leaky the difference is negligible.
“The main issue that I fear is when the Department of Public Health was here in 2014 and again in 2020, they noted that when this building was renovated from a school into a police department in the 1980s, they blocked all of the fresh air intake, so there’s no fresh air being pumped into the building,” Scott said. “The only fresh air we have coming in is through the leaky windows and part of the reason they remain leaky is because we need the fresh air.”
Mold is also visible on some of the walls, including around windows on the first floor, some of which are in administrative workspaces. In the basement, mold can be seen visibly on the roof and on pipes.
Additionally, the police station is not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Of the facility’s issues are a noticeable divot that can be seen in the front granite steps that is a tripping hazard. Patched concrete on the handicap access ramp and parking lot pavement has deteriorated. The building also has no elevator or way to bring in a disabled detainee. The public restroom is not handicapped-accessible and the stairlift could not fit a motorized wheelchair.
Further complicating matters is that the interview room is not soundproof. Standing in the interview room, conversations between dispatchers can be easily heard.
“The key thing is that we’ve got to do something,” LoBuono told The Sun. “The current buildings are very antiquated and operationally not in good shape for what we need. And when you think about it, it’s fire safety, it’s police, it’s dispatch, it’s important for the town.”
Of the three existing public safety buildings, the Jersey Street fire station is considered to be in the best condition.
“The only building that essentially meets our needs is the Jersey Street fire station and that’s meeting our needs and that’s simply a garage,” MacLean said. “If we asked it to be a fire station it’s completely inadequate, there’s no office space or living quarters.”
The Jersey Street station lacks showers, beds, and a kitchen. Above the engines, there is a small room with two couches, but limited space for much else. The room is where mutual aid partners stay on call temporarily while the department is on call. Because it lacks many features necessary to be considered a full-time building, it has complicated Fire Chief Brian Borneman’s efforts to secure grants.
Additionally, there is no exhaust recovery system which has become standard in many fire department buildings, including the one on Park Street. The system helps ventilate toxins in the air caused by the diesel trucks which have been found to have long-term health consequences for firefighters.
Although Park Street does have beds, a shower, and an exhaust recovery stem, space is still at a premium. Two ambulances are backed in bumper to bumper with Engine 5 and Tanker 1. Borneman recalled his crew trying to clean one of the ambulances this past winter during the height of the pandemic after responding to a CPR call.
“We’re trying to do it in the bay because it’s less than 20 degrees outside and my employees are going in and out of these trucks and I’m thinking to myself if one of these people slips and falls getting in and out, there’s no room for error here,” Borneman said. “They’re going to land in the back of that engine or up against a wall and get hurt.”
For the vehicles to fit properly, Borneman said Engine 5 had to be custom-built on a smaller size. While manufacturers can accommodate such requests, it comes with an additional cost he said. Other vehicles, such as the department’s ladder truck, simply don’t fit.
During the pandemic, Borneman added a second overnight member of his staff. To give that person a bed, the only option was to place it in the station’s main room that also serves as office space, a conference room, and a dining area. All that separates the additional bed is a cubicle partition.
A front room that the chief said would normally be used for radios is currently used for storage. Turnout gear is hung on hooks in garage bays. The only space for a washing machine used to wash firefighter’s gear was in the men’s restroom, within feet from a urinal.
While the Building Committee is only seeking money for the OPM and initial design efforts at the upcoming town meeting, they have suggested that a new construction project could be around $15 million to $20 million. However, MacLean emphasized the final cost is unknown until the initial designs are in place.
“Renovation isn’t necessarily cheaper. It can sometimes be a smaller price tag because you don’t do as much but in terms of a per square foot cost, renovation is sometimes higher than building new. Depending on how much renovation you have to do, it may make more sense to build new,” MacLean said.
The Annual Town Meeting will be held Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Nissitissit Middle School, located at 33 Chase Ave. If business extends beyond 1 p.m., it will be continued on Monday at 7 p.m.