Bernardston voters OK buying auto repair shop for future Fire Station


For the Recorder

Published: 07-27-2023 5:46 PM

BERNARDSTON — The majority of the 82 residents at Wednesday’s Special Town Meeting voted in favor of buying Raymond’s Repair to be the new location of the town’s Fire Station, taking advantage of what Fire Chief Peter Shedd described as “a tremendous opportunity.”

With voters’ blessing, the Selectboard will purchase the property at 167 Northfield Road for $1.6 million through payments of $130,000 over 10 years. A $300,000 down payment will pay for repairs. Once these repairs are finished, the Fire Department will relocate to the 24.15-acre property, with Shedd predicting it will be a roughly year-long process.

“According to the Finance Committee, we can do this without any bank financing,” he said while clicking through a presentation at the Senior Center outlining the plan. “We’re not going to have to borrow a dime to do this.”

Therefore, the town will pay no interest on the property, according to Town Counsel Donna MacNicol.

Repairs include removing the existing heating system, installing a propane boiler, replacing the garage doors and three walk-in doors, renovating the bathroom and kitchenette, installing five air filtration units, ensuring potable water supply and an adequate waterline, encasing the interior in metal for insulation, inspecting the septic system and replacing it if necessary, painting the exterior red and installing a propane generator.

Although the town had previously planned to build an addition onto the Fire Station at 18 Church St., renovating and expanding the current station was estimated to cost $4.58 million — about double the $2.4 million cost that was initially projected. This price tag halted progress until now.

Town Meeting attendees also voted in favor of rescinding the authority to borrow the $3 million that had previously been approved toward expanding the existing station.

But “it’s not just about the money,” according to Shedd. While the existing station covers 2,378 square feet, the Raymond’s Repair building measures 6,320 square feet. According to Shedd, more space means more safety.

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Shedd said the existing Fire Station leaves firefighters feeling crammed during emergency responses. Firefighters often collide with each other while stepping into gear and leaving the station.

“The dangerous part of the job shouldn’t be getting out the door,” Shedd said after Wednesday’s meeting. A larger station will increase the Fire Department’s efficiency.

The expansion will also clear space for storage, training, decontamination stations, an Emergency Operations Center and indoor space to store vehicles, eliminating the need to rent space from areas like Valley Masonry to store fire trucks and equipment.

“The Fire Department has to grow with the town,” Shedd said. At the time of the existing Fire Station’s construction in 1970, the department received about 30 to 40 calls, he said. “We’ve been averaging over 300 calls per year.”

Shedd noted that, in his 20 years of considering properties that could support a new Fire Station, as well as expansion in the future should it be needed, “there were no town-owned parcels of land big enough to do anything of any size and to accommodate building into the future.”

After hearing Shedd’s presentation, Bernardston residents asked about stormwater management and diesel fuels from the automotive repair shop soaking into the property’s soil. Selectboard member Ken Bordewieck said an environmental services company inspected the property, including the riverfront area, and reported clean results. According to Bordewieck, a stormwater plan is not required because the Fire Department is relocating to an existing structure rather than building a new one.

Shade tree removal bylaw

In addition to approving the Fire Station plans, 61 of the 82 Town Meeting attendees voted in favor of a new bylaw outlining the process for removing public shade trees.

To remove a tree, the bylaw requires a request be made to Tree Warden Brad Bordewieck by phone or in an email. Next, the tree warden will schedule a public hearing for the request in front of the Selectboard and occasionally the Planning Board if the tree is located on a scenic road. The hearing will be posted in two or more public places, including in a local newspaper at least seven days in advance.

If the Selectboard approves the removal, the tree warden will write a permit for the removal unless one or more people issue written objections.

Several residents expressed disagreement over the final section of the bylaw that holds the person receiving the permit responsible for a tree’s removal and its cost, claiming that the section forces the onus of paying for the removal on homeowners instead of the town.

As a result, residents voted in favor of an amendment replacing the section that read, “Reimbursement to the town is required for every inch of tree caliper removed. Each measured inch will require a $100 reimbursement into the tree donations special revenue fund. For example, a 5-inch caliper tree will be $500 and a 10-inch caliper tree will be $1,000, etc.” The amendment refrains from specifying the exact cost of the tree removal, and instead reads, “Reimbursement to the town is required and will be determined by the tree warden. ... If aggrieved on the reimbursement amount, an appeal may be made to the Selectboard.”

The vote followed the Selectboard approving the removal of several trees near Cushman Library during its meeting an hour earlier. According to Town Coordinator Lou Bordeaux, the overgrown trees provided a pathway for squirrels to enter the library, necessitating their removal.