Three more possible scenarios for police and fire stations - or a combined facility - earned mixed reviews from the Public Safety Building Committee last week.
Committee members viewed a possible combined facility on five lots on Main Street bordered by Kendall Road and the Wachusett Regional High School driveway, a proposal for a police facility on two acres in the Dawson recreation area on Salisbury Street, and either a renovation/addition to the existing fire station or a station on the current site on Main Street across from the high school.
Architect Michael McKeon of Kaestle Boos said the costs per square foot were based on comparative analyses and recent similar projects, though there are many variables that can't be estimated, such as site preparation costs, and the expense and time needed to acquire properties by eminent domain.
McKeon's estimates for a combined public safety facility that would give 20,000 square feet to fire and 16,500 square feet to police, with each sharing 3,000 square feet, resulted in a combined facility of 33,500 square feet at $322 per square foot, about $10.8 million. Adding the cost of inflation and the cost of acquiring the property, the price tag rises to $13.85 million.
To build a 16,500-square-foot police facility at the Dawson recreation area would cost $335 per square foot. Costs for the two fire station scenarios were $310 per square foot for a 20,000-square-foot station. Adding inflation and the cost to acquire neighboring property adjacent to the station brought the combined cost up to $15.05 million for a police station and a new fire station, and $14.1 million for a police station and an addition/renovation.
Those estimates do not include space to house EMS should the town acquire ambulance service.
Landscape architect Ken Costello of Kaestle Boos outlined the problems with each site. The Batemen property, the name used in previous PSBC discussions for the five lots totalling 3.5 acres near Kendall Road, has a 10- to 20-foot drop from one end to the other, requiring some leveling. A combined police-fire building plan used in Foxboro was superimposed on the property for discussion, and included orientation to keep fire apparatus bays away from the high school side of the lot.
The Salisbury Street-Dawson Recreation area lot has a steep 20-foot drop, though Costello called the site "very clean," that is, requiring little adjustment for environmental issues.
Building on the current fire station site, however, is more problematic, McKeon said. Costello said there's a 20-foot grade change, resulting in a "not very desirable circulation pattern" for any vehicles on the site.
Use of that site has other problems: there's no room for growth, McKeon said.
"It's obviously not the ideal," he said.
Moreover, Costello has serious concerns about the fill at the rear of the property.
Members differed sharply on the advantages and disadvantages of each site.
PSBC member Hal Lane found the Bateman property the least desirable because of the potential acquisition costs of the five lots, currently private single-family homes that would have to be taken by eminent domain. Towns are required to pay residents fair value for their property.
Selectman and PSBC member David White thought the Bateman property presented the best value, and disapproved of the potential use of the Salisbury Street-Dawson Recreation area land.
If the land could be acquired from the state by trading other adjacent parcels, White said, the town might decide to use it differently, for instance, for extended parking or some other expansion of recreation functions.
"You're removing any potential to use it for recreation," he said. "I think you'd have a hard sell with the select board."
But Police Chief George Sherrill said the public safety need should trump recreational uses for town land. Sherrill opposed the displacement of families and the loss of tax revenue that would result from the use of the Bateman property.
Several members were concerned about the loss of tax revenue and the cost of acquiring the property, as well as the potential that residents would fight the taking and lengthen the process, thereby increasing the cost by inflation.
Moreover, drainage at the bottom of the hill where the high school is situated has always been a concern, and one that's increased since the high school expansion project began, according to at least one resident.
Main Street resident Gary Gaskin, who owns one of the lots at the foot of the high school driveway that would be taken by eminent domain, spoke to the water difficulty experienced by residents there. He said when rain is heavy, the water table rises to ground level, and he and his neighbors have to use sump pumps to clear their basements. Sometimes, Gaskin said, his sump pumps run constantly for weeks.
The use of the Salisbury Street lot, McKeon said, could be tailored to expand recreation needs as well.
There is also potential to add to the police department a fire department bay for use as a substation, something many have said is needed at the Salisbury Street side of town, where many new homes are being built.
"That would answer issues we know we're going to have to address in the future," said PSBC member Mary Ryan.
What stymies the committee, however, is the lack of firm numbers. The cost to acquire properties has always been an option the committee sought to avoid in order to keep costs down. The current options are the second round of proposals they've considered, only after viewing less-than-desirable uses for town-owned land, like the Damon House.
During public commentary, Sheila Bachant highlighted the difficulty of adding property purchases to the cost.
"You've got to sell this to the hardworking people in this town who go to the ballot box and vote," Bachant said.
Considering extra costs to acquire property, PSBC member Karl Makela said, perhaps this makes it feasible to put the Caswell-King site back on the table.
The Caswell-King lot on Main Street, along with two adjacent lots, is under agreement with the Richmond Group for a Walgreens drug store, a use that has not found favor with abutters and center neighborhood residents.
"I think you people have a wonderful opportunity to serve this town well," Walnut Street resident Karen Green told the committee. "You could prevent a behemoth from going up in the middle of town, which no one wants."
PSBC Chair Christopher Lucchesi said he will seek more information from MassHighway and discuss eminent domain with town officials. Kaestle-Boos will conduct a few more test borings on the fill at the back of the fire station site.
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