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New public safety building  on horizon for Warwick

Recorder/Peter MacDonald
The Warwick Volunteer Firemen’s Association says it has enough money to break ground on a new public safety complex to replace the current fire station, seen above.

Recorder/Peter MacDonald The Warwick Volunteer Firemen’s Association says it has enough money to break ground on a new public safety complex to replace the current fire station, seen above.

WARWICK — More than a decade of donations could soon pay off, as the Warwick Volunteer Firemen’s Association plans to break ground on a new public safety complex as early as March.

“We figure we’ve got enough money to put the structure up,” said Fire Chief Ronald Gates.

The association can get the project done for a fraction of what it would cost the town. The private group isn’t bound by the laws that require towns to pay prevailing wages and put large projects out to bid.

Once the public safety building is finished, the association will give it to the town. How long that takes depends on how much the group can collect in donations.

“We don’t have enough money to complete it; our hopes are to get the building up and enclosed,” added Fire Capt. Joseph Paul.

Unfinished though it may be, the hope is that visible progress will spur more donations.

“When the shell (of the new building) is up, people will see that it’s real, it’s not just 10 years of talk. I’m quite optimistic that it will be a launching pad to raise funds,” said Administrative Coordinator David Young. “Getting the old building raised was a sense of achievement.”

The property of the old Warwick Center School, on Athol Road, has been approved for the site of the new public safety building by a town meeting vote. The school was used from 1930 to 1999, when students moved to the Warwick Community School. The Center School was torn down in 2011.

When the new station is complete, it will house the Fire and Police departments, as well as the emergency management director.

Current plans call for a single-story building with three overhead garage doors, a metal roof, vinyl siding, and radiant floor heat, said Fire Capt. Joseph Paul. He said the building could be put up this year, but there likely won’t be enough money for siding, never mind interior finish work.

Gates said the building will include a training room, offices for the fire and police chiefs, a control room that would also be used by the emergency management director, and maybe a small kitchen. An additional garage bay on the side of the building would provide a “sally port,” which police could pull a cruiser into, and lock, before taking a suspect out of the car.

Warwick’s current two-bay fire station on Hastings Pond Road was built with association funds in 1952, and given to the town. That’s the same way Warwick’s Fire Department got its Engine 1, a 1957 Dodge that’s still in service today.

Once the new building is up, the Fire Department will seek a grant to help pay for a new engine. But for now, with no place to garage it, the town will wait.

Gates said the grant he will apply for comes up every March, and he hopes to have enough work done on the new building to apply next year.

The current station can’t fit modern fire engines, and one of the department’s newer had to be custom-ordered to fit into the station’s small bays.

Retired Fire Chief Brian Gale, and his son, Darren Gale, drafted the plans for the proposed building. Brian Gale is the building inspector for Orange, and Gates is confident in his ability.

When Gates took the helm as chief in 2011, the new building was at the forefront of his priorities. It still is.

“Our trucks are spread all over town, and we can’t get a new one until we’ve put up a building,” he said at the time.

In addition to the two fire engines, the town also has a brush/rescue truck, a forestry tanker, and an aging pump truck donated by Erving.

Gates said the proposed building would have room for all five current vehicles, as well as the new engine he hopes for.

Selectboard member Nick Arguimbau was concerned with the aesthetics of the new building.

“I’d like to see a mock-up of the building. The old building is cute; it’s bothered me from the start that maybe the new one won’t be as cute,” he said. “But maybe it will.”

The captain assured him that the new building would fit in as much as possible.

“It won’t be a big cement or steel-sided building,” said Paul. “We’ve got to live here, too; we don’t want it to stick out like a sore thumb.”

Even if the firemen’s association was paying contractors instead of doing the work itself, it would still be cheaper than it would be for the town.

In Massachusetts, public construction projects have to be put out to bid, and hired contractors have to pay “prevailing wage” to their workers. That rate is set by the state’s Department of Labor Standards, and is often quite a bit more than the rate those workers would earn on a private job. “It would be nice if prevailing wages actually prevailed around here,” said Young.

The Warwick Volunteer Firemen’s Association is a private, nonprofit entity, which can get around the bidding process and prevailing wages.

Gates said the association’s members can do quite a bit of the work themselves, on a volunteer basis.

“We have four licensed contractors on the department, as well as plumbers and electricians,” he said. Gates said the association will need to hire an outside contractor to dig and pour the building’s foundation, however.

But, before breaking ground, plans need to pass muster with engineers.

“A lot of the design has been done, but we need (an engineer) to go over the proposal and see if it works structurally,” said Gates. He said he hopes to hear back from engineers by the end of the month.

That review could result in a green-light or the need for plans to be fine-tuned. Either way, Gates isn’t stopping until a building goes up.

“I’m confident (in the project),” said Gates. “I refuse to give up. This building is going up; we’ve been hurting for this for too long.”

The Warwick Volunteer Firemen’s Association will hold a spaghetti supper fundraiser from 6 to 7:30 p.m. March 2 in Town Hall. Admission is $8 for adults, and $4 for children. A 40-inch flat-screen TV will be raffled off at the dinner; raffle tickets are $10 each.

David Rainville can be reached at:
drainville@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 279

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