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Towns look at where to put regional ambulance

Recorder/Paul Franz
The South Deerfield Fire District building.

Recorder/Paul Franz The South Deerfield Fire District building.

WHATELY — Before the southern Franklin County selectmen go to the townspeople for approval of a regional paramedic ambulance service, town leaders have to determine where to put the ambulance.

There are several options on the table among Deerfield, Whately and Sunderland from the Sunderland Public Safety Complex to the South Deerfield Fire Station to the Western Massachusetts Regional Library System building in Whately.

The three boards of selectmen have not made any decision yet on location, explained Whately and Sunderland Town Administrators Lynn Sibley and Margaret Nartowicz.

The towns are researching the housing options and the costs involved with each different location.

The three boards met twice in July in Sunderland to hammer out their proposal for a regional 24/7 paramedic ambulance service. The boards are focused on staffing and location. Whately’s board also has to make its final decision where to join. It plans to do this at its next meeting on Tuesday.

The boards hope to ask the townspeople at special town meetings in September to approve final plans for a service that would start in January.

The newest proposed location to house the ambulance is in the Whately Industrial Complex at the Western Massachusetts Regional Library System building. The idea would be to house the ambulance service and the South County Senior Center in the building.

The option is in the early stages.

“It’s all so preliminary,” Sibley said. “I don’t know what the costs are yet. There are a lot of unknowns at this point, but it is an option to consider.”

Greg Pronevitz, the Massachusetts Library System executive director, said the library board has been trying for 19 months to lease the building, but it hasn’t found any viable options. In June, the board voted to explore the sale of the property as it continues to look for leasing options.

Cost of buying

There is no sale price yet, Pronevitz said. The library system is working with Mark Abramson of Cohn and Company Real Estate to sell or lease the property.

The library system currently pays $114,000 a year for the building — $69,000 of which is the mortgage. The library group would rent the space for between $50,000 and $64,000 annually, he said.

“If (the towns) want to lease the space for an ambulance service, I think it could work,” Pronevitz said.

Pronevitz said the library office and an ambulance and senior center could fit easily within the building. The library staff would be located at the front of the building.

According to 2003 site plans, the library building is about 10,000 square feet. Although the towns would have to make some site modifications, the building already has two bays that ambulances could use.

The roughly nine-year-old building also has wide open space to house the senior center. It would also provide office space for the ambulance service and offers parking, Sibley said.

According to Sibley, the senior center has outgrown its facility on North Main Street in South Deerfield and is also not accessible downstairs.

“It isn’t ideal. This building would be handicapped accessible,” said Sibley. “It seems to have all the thing we’re looking for in the ambulance service and senior center.”

Over the past two years, about 60 percent of the building has been vacant. The state library system uses the northern portion of the building for training. There is no book collection at the building and it is not a public library.

“We kept it for two years because western Massachusetts librarians felt we should keep it,” Pronevitz said. “But the expense of maintaining the vacant space makes the building cost more than what we actually use.”

The Massachusetts Library System was formed in 2010, replacing the six regional library services in the state. Though Western Massachusetts Regional Library System is a dormant organization with no funds or staff, the entity still owns the building in Whately.

The library system would consider several options. It could sell the property and maintain a western Massachusetts office elsewhere, it could lease the vacant space or it could sell the building and lease the space it uses now as a tenant.

South Deerfield location

Also in the running for the ambulance hub is the South Deerfield Fire District off Routes 5 and 10 on Greenfield Road.

However, the location depends on whether the towns can reach an agreement with the South Deerfield Fire District Prudential Committee.

If the fire district shares its building, it may only offer space for one ambulance. The regional service’s backup ambulance would have to be located elsewhere, most likely at the Sunderland Public Safety Complex on River Road.

“It may be less than ideal because the two ambulances would be separated,” said Nartowicz. “But it’s an option the towns are still looking at.”

For years, the fire district has allowed the Deerfield Ambulance to operate from the station at no cost. The Prudential Committee still has to decide whether it will allow the regional service into the building as it did for the Deerfield EMTs. Whether the regional service would pay rent also has to be determined.

The fire district concerns include the amount of space the regional service would need and also access to the building, according to Fire Chief William Swasey.

Right now, the firefighters and 25 Deerfield EMTs have key cards to access the building. With an enlarged service, the towns have to determine a system by which many more EMTs — full-time and per diem — get inside.

If the Prudential Committee agreed and the towns chose this route, it would most likely be a start-up option until the towns found another building to allow them to expand the service.

The Prudential Committee could not be reached for comment on this story. The committee’s next meeting is Aug. 8.

Another option would be to house the entire service at the Sunderland Public Safety Complex.

The building has two bays to accommodate two ambulances and the staff. The Police Department is housed on the other side of the building and would not be affected, Nartowitz said.

“We’d have to discuss the logistics, but the service could fit in the public safety complex,” said Nartowicz.

The ambulance service would not have to pay rent on the building owned by the town of Sunderland. The town incurred debt to purchase the building nine years ago. As a result, the ambulance service would have to pay its proportionate share of the debt and building operation costs depending on its space, Nartowicz said.

The current town EMS department contributes $27,342 for building costs.

The drawback is it is not as centrally located among the three towns as the South Deerfield Fire District or the library.

The three towns’ selectmen gather next on Aug. 5 at 7 p.m. in the Sunderland Town Office.

You can reach Kathleen McKiernan at:
kmckiernan@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261 ext. 268.

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