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Proposed Fire Station Recommended For Boston Road

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The following are excerpts from the Feb. 3, 2015 Westford Board of Selectmen meeting. To see video of the meeting, head to westfordcat.org. For other parts of the meeting, click here

7:36 p.m. – The meeting began with a moment of silence for the young man who lost his life recently at Nashoba Valley Ski Area as well as praise for the Westford Highway Department in their work clearing snow recently.

There was also a reminder regarding recent changes about the limit of three trash barrels per pickup date and the lower bulk sticker rates.

7:40 p.m. – The transfer of an all-alcohol package store license (Nabnasset Liquors) was approved 4-0-0. (Selectman Jim Sullivan was absent.)

7:45 p.m. – Members of the Fire Department Center Study Committee came before the Selectmen, led by Permanent Town Building Committee Chairman Tom Mahanna.

The study committee gave a presentation on recommendations about the proposed new fire station, beginning with information on the current fire station in the town center.

aDSC_0012Mahanna said that the building was built in 1970 and now needs significant upgrades to address various building code violations and other issues with safety issues.

The building also does not have a sprinkler system and cannot service training needs.

Then the presentation went to information on why a location on Boston Road would be optimal.

Although an analysis of response times for the “replacement” site for the current location would put a station near the current McDonald’s location on Littleton Road, the town-owned property on Boston Road had response times only five seconds slower, compared to 40 seconds slower with the current station location.

The Nabnasset and Forge Village fire station locations were already considered optimal, and a fourth station, if needed, would be best placed in northern Westford due to growth in that area.

Then the presentation took a look at the center station’s current location, with distance to 495 as well as wetlands restrictions behind the station.

To fit the needs of the fire department, a facility four times larger than the current center station site would be needed.

If the current station were to be replaced, a three story facility would need to be built and the traffic flows for fire trucks would be difficult.

Different layouts for the possible three-story building inhibited the building’s ability to allow fire trucks to return after calls.

It would cost approximately $14 million and would create a dispatch center that combines fire and police dispatching. This would require temporary housing and would impact police operations. It would also create a loss of 40 parking spaces.

Another option for the site of the current center station would be a one-story structure that would allow a new community room and facility for the town’s technology department.

This plan, along with a Boston Road fire station and the new combined dispatch center, would cost approximately $15 million.

The Boston Road site is currently unused and the facility could be made without significant impact to nearby vegetation.

It’s located right across from the former Drew Gardens property.

This proposed site would have a primary exit and entrance for emergency vehicles onto Boston Road, with a secondary driveway connected to Blake Hill Road for emergency vehicles and other vehicles.

A driveway in front of the garage heading out onto Boston Road is large enough to allow an engine to turn. There is also room for expansion.

This plan would cost $15 million, as previously stated.

Another option was presented with two entrance/exitways onto Boston Road. The cost would be largely similar and there would be little impact outside of not using Blakes Hill Road.

Mahanna then said the Permanent Town Building Committee is recommending the Boston Road site, and architectural funds would be requested at Town Meeting this spring.

The bidding and construction phase would be brought to voters in Spring of 2016.

Town Manager Jodi Ross noted that the Permanent Town Building Committee didn’t need to focus on a use for anything replacing the current fire station location, and that the focus for what to do with that site should be addressed after the Boston Road site is developed. The Boston Road site alone would cost approximately $12 million.

Selectman Kelly Ross asked about the uses for the center station location and if the IT Department needed to move quickly. Jodi Ross said that the dispatching center would need to come first, although the IT Department’s current location is not ideal.

Kelly Ross then noted that last year’s Town Meeting voted down a similar proposal for a fire station on Boston Road and he asked if voters turn down the fire station there again if there is a Plan B.

Mahanna said there is not, and this time he believes there is more information indicating why the Boston Road location is ideal and that there has been more feedback from residents.

He believes that if the building is architecturally appealing, it will be accepted by residents.

Mahanna then talked about the potential impact on the Nabnasset station and that the move will not impact Nabnasset.

Kelly Ross then asked if the Permanent Town Building Committee and Fire Department could support a facility on the current site if it fails at Town Meeting.

Fire Department Chief Joe Targ said that the current facility has been outgrown, and that the Police Department outgrew its facility next door almost ten years ago.

Kelly Ross then noted that it would be difficult to buy a property on Littleton Road.

Jodi Ross said that the Plan B would be the former Veryfine Building on Littleton Road near the Westford Regency, buying that property would cost the town $8 million.

Selectman Don Siriani told anyone interested in the facility to go to westfordcat.org and look at Geoff Hall’s tour of the center fire station building.

He thanked the committee for their work and said it’s not a difficult choice to support Boston Road site.

Mahanna said he had heard from neighbors on Blakes Hill Road, but he thinks concerns could be adequately addressed.

Dennis Wrona from Sassafras Road spoke in favor of the project and noted three sources of objections last time.

The first objection was people who wanted to keep a fire station at the town center, the second objections came from people on Blakes Hill Road. The final objection was regarding residents concerned about traffic and he asked for additional information on how this.

Targ said that traffic issues on 495 would impact response times either at the current location or the proposed Boston Road location, although a traffic control device would be part of the project.

Regarding the funding for the project, Jodi Ross recommended focusing on just the Boston Road fire station and the dispatch station, which would cost residents $96.96 on a $465,000 home. (Approximately $12 million in debt excluded from bonding + $1 million from free cash.)

A potential Proposition 2 ½ override vote attached to the construction could be presented.

Kelly Ross said this appeared different from what was done with the Senior Center, Jodi Ross said that the Selectmen would have to go back to Town Meeting only if construction costs alone after design cost $12 million.

Although there is currently almost no design for the proposed station in place, the experts before the board have designed many fire stations.

The experts then said that construction costs could fluctuate in the future.

Kelly Ross said he was concerned going back to Town Meeting multiple times for money, Jodi Ross said that in the past the town has gone to voters several times for different portions of projects and noted that this proposal for design money would not be wasteful since it would only be contingent upon obtaining a debt exclusion for the entire project.

Selectman Andrea-Peraner Sweet said it made sense not to spend $1 million on design and then have approval for construction money shot down. She also said that it was important to communicate the plan to the town and that something unforeseen may happen, but that can be addressed later.

Selectman Scott Hazelton then asked when the bonding for the fire station would be paid off.

Budget Director Dan O’Donnell said that bond payments for all outstanding projects for debt excluded debt will drop off in 2024 due to the paying off of school construction debts.

The interest rates for bonds on the fire station would be 3.75% and would be paid off by 2036 (15 years).

Siriani then asked about an additional bay, with the approximate cost being about $300,000.

Kelly Ross asked how much taxes would increase if excluded debt was included in the figures, O’Donnell said it would be less than $300 per resident.

Peraner-Sweet made a motion on the Boston Road site. It was approved 4-0-0. A motion was then made on Jodi Ross’ recommendation of $12 million from bonding that would be debt excluded plus $1 million from free cash for the fire station, both contingent on approval of a design and architectural study to be approved by voters.

Kelly Ross then asked about when specific wording for a ballot question regarding the debt exclusion question would be due.

Jodi Ross said there was plenty of time to deliberate before meeting legal notice deadlines.