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Emotions Run High at Proposed Fire Station Information Session

Those in support or against the measure packed the Chelmsford Senior Center to hear from town officials regarding plans for the building.

Tempers flared during a public information session for the fire station proposal last night.

Residents packed the to listen to and ask questions of Town Manager Paul Cohen, Chelmsford Permanent Building Committee Chairman Pat Maloney, as well as other town officials regarding the town’s proposal to build a new central fire station at 50 Billerica Road, adjoining the town offices.

A ballot question asking for resident support for the proposed fire station passed by 297 votes in .

Maloney began the meeting by outlining a feasibility study initially discussed by the Permanent Building Committee in 2008 regarding the fire department's fate, including replacing the floor of the Center Fire Station, adding on to the existing building, and a 5th option—the ultimate recommendation of the Permanent Building Committee—the construction of a “full headquarters."

While many locations have been suggested for the proposed fire station in recent years, including land on Drum Hill Road, the corners of Wilson and Chelmsford Streets, and the old Chelmsford Police station, these have fallen through for reasons varying from cost, delayed response time, to feasibility of construction.

The argument for a 50 Billerica Road construction is several fold, according to the presentation: the proposed building will take advantage of approximately 3,000 square feet of office space in the town offices, will save cost and space, and will keep the fire station centrally located and close to the current building’s location.

The current Center Fire Station, built in 1955, has many structural and space concerns, including cramped and inadequate storage and facility space, crumbling and cracked foundations, and flooding in basement areas.

The new building hopes to solve those issues with a new construction that will more than double the useable space from 8,915 to 19,489 square feet, including more storage, office, work, and maneuverable room for vehicles and equipment.

According to engineering firm hired by the town for the project, the estimated cost for the construction is $7,766,795, accounting for $6.1 million in building costs and $1.665 in remaining “soft” costs: print, advertising, furnishings, testing, and a contingency budget. 

Passions were at a high, with both proponents and opponents taking the microphone to ask questions of town officials. Residents who didn’t live near the proposed station were concerned with traffic related to location, how the fire station might interfere with town hall proceedings, and the ability of fire trucks to  navigate Summer and Wilson Streets, among other things.

For resident Kevin Ross, who lives directly adjacent to the planned station, the proposal hit a little closer to home: literally. According to Ross, the fire station will disrupt the community that he lives in, interfere with sleep, the general peace, and the beauty of the neighborhood. He also believed that town government didn’t give residents in his neighborhood enough warning about projected building plans, nor did he believe that the delegation were taking the homeowners’ desires into full consideration.

“Come to our neighborhood, ask us what we need,” he said to the presenters. “Once you open Pandora’s box there’s no putting it back in. It looks like a good plan, next to your house maybe? I don’t understand how it got this far.”

“You can mitigate until the cows come home,” said another resident who lives on Billerica Rd. “They say it’s location, location, location, and this is the wrong location.”

Bob Joyce, a town meeting representative from Precinct 1, said he "is for the fire station," but believes the ideal place is at the previously discussed location at the corner of Wilson and Chelmsford Streets.

Joyce believes that the 50 Billerica Road location has inherent disadvantages. The plan for the building doesn’t take future growth into account, and doesn’t have “sufficient space for further expansion,” according to Joyce.

“Fifty years from now, we want to expand the station because we’ve got 19 ambulances, you can’t expand, it’s full up,” he said as an example. “A fire station should have drive through bays."

Bill Griffin, a town meeting representative from Precinct 9, voiced his support for the progress in the plans and for what he believed was addressing a key concern in the town’s infrastructure.

“The town has taken several important steps as a community to try to address those needs,” he said. “This is a need-to-have,” he said of the new fire station, “and what disappoints me is that I see a community here that almost doesn’t know what it wants.”

Maloney made sure to tell residents that what they were seeing was not set in stone.

“In the end, what you’re seeing is a concept, there’ll be changes along the way,” he said. He also spoke to criticism about the Building Committee’s perceived lack of communication with the neighborhood, saying that the members had tried to work with community concerns.

“We hear these things, so, is it the perfect place? I can’t tell you that,” he said. “This was what the next step was after Chelmsford and Wilson Street failed (…), this is where we went.”

“The conclusion is, no site is perfect,” said Town Manager Paul Cohen. “Had there been a perfect site and a perfect cost, it would have been done years ago, either five years ago or twenty years ago. What we have we believe is the most economical and most effective plan that we believe will get support in this community.”

You can look at more documents for the proposed fire station here.

Kathleen J Murphy April 21, 2012 at 12:51 AM
Thank you Brad. I agree with all you said. It will not be the end of the world if it passes. I do agree the fire department would be a decent neighbor. I am worried I will have alot of trouble selling my house in the future.I hope this proposal gives the fire department what they need for now and the future. It is pretty much out of my hands at this point. I have said my peace and will move forward.
Joanne April 21, 2012 at 02:04 AM
Paul, for whatever reason, your next question down to me didn't have a reply button. I tried to answer at the bottom, and it didn't go through. I do not have the same confidence in the town as you, apparently. My husband and I went to Dracut to measure that building and take pictures. Their 5-bays are almost exactly as long as the ones on the current drawings for Billerica Rd. (88-89 ft). Believe it our not, their whole building is comparable in size to the Chelmsford drawings. We then measured from the left corner of our town hall to the right end of the parking lot up to the guard rail. The current drawings show the new building (attached to the town hall) as over 250 ft.- actually reaching over the right guard rail. I haven't heard anyone talking about making it smaller. I'm not sure what you meant about my interest in Wilson St. At the time I thought it was still too close but I didn't want prop 2 1/2. With what's being planned now, Wilson St. sounds better, and access to Rt.110 would be easier.
David April 21, 2012 at 02:51 PM
Paul, With all due respect, the Wilson Street proposal was voted down by a margin of only 400 votes the first time around. One could argue that a lot of those people were voting on the debt exclusion and the fear of their taxes going up, not voting against the station altogether. As for the size and cost of the proposed station: The current station has 5 bays, not all of which are usable due to deteriorating conditions. If the current station is inadequate and undersized(which is what the research has told us), why should/would the town rebuild a smaller station? Due to the unstable nature of construction costs and potential issues that can arise during the building process, the estimates given are "usually" on the high side... Wilson Street gives the town the ability to expand in the future(if necessary) and is in the middle of a commercial zone, satisfying those on Billerica Road. We have one shot to get this thing right and protect ourselves going forward, it doesn't make sense to cut corners? As I stated before, why isn't there an option to build a new station on Wilson Street with Fire Administration offices occupying the existing space in Town Hall that will be available when the Alpha Road project is completed?
Joanne April 21, 2012 at 04:16 PM
Paul, I received an email a little bit ago that you had written again, but I can't find it here. Anyway, your suggestion has come a many times including at the meeting. In fact my husband talked with the fire chief and asked the same question. If that went through, even if I wouldn't be totally thrilled about Wilson Street, I could live with that rather than the station across the street.
Tony April 21, 2012 at 04:59 PM
It wasn't an "I want" situation. He laid out what he couldn't house in the station because of it's deteriorated infrastructure.

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