Breakfast showcases finalized public safety complex designs in Northfield

By JULIAN MENDOZA

Staff Writer

Published: 02-26-2023 3:56 PM

NORTHFIELD — Attendees of a Fire Department fundraiser on Sunday morning enjoyed not only freshly cooked pancakes, but also a chance to see newly finalized plans for Northfield’s proposed public safety complex.

Fire Chief Floyd “Skip” Dunnell III estimated that more than 200 people attended the pancake breakfast at Northfield Elementary School between 7 and 10 a.m. With the cafeteria packed, members of the Fire Department and junior firefighters served food and drinks while Dunnell hovered from table to table chatting with residents. Meanwhile, the Fire Department’s close connection with the community was reflected through a set of revised design plans, which saw public input translated into minor aesthetic tweaks as finishing touches.

“We’ve basically taken some public input and we’ve incorporated it into the design so it’s going to kind of fit in a little bit better,” Dunnell said. “We’ve had great input from the townspeople, from the neighbors.”

The multi-million-dollar complex, to be located on Main Street just north of Dickinson Memorial Library, was designed following the release of a video tour showcasing the inadequacies of the police, fire and emergency medical services buildings in February 2022. The interior design of the 18,200-square-foot building includes three distinct sections — one for police, one for fire and one for EMS — with an area in the middle with conference rooms and other multi-purpose rooms to be shared by the three departments.

The latest design update, which was displayed at the fundraiser, pays homage to the current fire station with an array of arch-shaped trim sections around the building’s doors, windows and bays. This aesthetic choice, Dunnell said, came directly from the public requesting that the current station’s “unique” style be preserved. The building’s stone base, similarly included to adhere to the town’s signature look, is inspired by the nearby Dickinson Memorial Library.

“It’s beautiful,” said Mark Trumbull, a longtime Northfield resident. “It looks really nice. It’s nice that everything is going to be under one roof, too.”

Trumbull said the project’s recent momentum has been “long overdue.” Aside from the benefits of a singular centralized location that houses all three departments, he voiced excitement about the building’s space upgrade.

“There’s a lack of space for the apparatuses and stuff in all the ... different buildings,” he observed.

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It’s no secret that Northfield’s current emergency services facilities have severe inadequacies, as evidenced by similar observations made by non-residents. Across the table from Trumbull, Erving firefighter Jeremy Klepadlo stressed that the lack of space is more severe in Northfield than in much of the surrounding region.

“They’re one of the only towns around that actually needs a new fire station because they can’t even put their fire trucks upstairs anymore,” Klepadlo said. “A lot of other towns’ fire trucks wouldn’t even fit in there.”

Since its construction in 1952, the condition of the two-floor, 5,400-square-foot fire station at 93 Main St. has deteriorated. A primary point of structural concern is that the concrete ceiling of the lower level began cracking a few years ago, causing support issues for the second floor. The department no longer places its heavier apparatuses on the upper floor.

Michelle Dwight, a resident of Winchester, Vermont whose father and uncles previously served her town as volunteer firefighters, said she’s observed how crucial it is for Northfield’s Fire Department to have ample resources due to how frequently they assist other towns.

“Northfield responds to our calls all the time,” she said, noting that she attended the breakfast to show gratitude toward the department. “Mutual aid, anyone’s coming to help anybody with calls, and I think it would be nice for them to have more resources. That’s such a small building that they’re probably struggling with space.”

Bernardston resident Kristen Cameron reasoned that having a combined public safety space would make it easier to pool resources.

“I think it’s wise that they’re putting all three services together, rather than doing separate buildings so they can share facilities. It’s an important piece,” she said, adding that “if there are multiple services needed to go to the same call, there would be a little more collaboration.”

Dunnell said that “right now, everything is moving forward on schedule.” The town hopes to put the project out to bid by mid-March. Once everything is in order, the site preparation and construction period is expected to take around 18 months.

Reach Julian Mendoza at 413-930-4231 or jmendoza@recorder.com.

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