Greenfield City Council OKs $6M more for new fire station

  • The city hopes to build a new fire station at the site of the open-air market at Main Street and Coombs Avenue in Greenfield. Staff File Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • The city’s Hope Street parking lot, as seen from Prospect Street in this photo taken before this week’s snowstorm, will be the site of a temporary fire station. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 12/17/2020 4:21:41 PM
Modified: 12/17/2020 4:21:30 PM

GREENFIELD — Plans for a new fire station can move forward now that City Council has voted to approve the additional $6 million the mayor requested for the project.

City Council met Wednesday night for a final discussion and vote on the matter. Twelve of the 13 councilors, including President Ashli Stempel-Rae, voted “yes,” while Precinct 6 Councilor Sheila Gilmour, who expressed some reservations earlier in the evening before the vote, abstained.

The council held a special meeting Friday, Dec. 11, at which about 20 people spoke with two expressing their opposition to a temporary fire station, saying the city should build a permanent fire station and then a library. (The city has to build a temporary fire station, planned for the municipal parking lot on Hope Street, because the new library project needs the old fire station property to begin its project in the spring.)

On Wednesday during the public comment portion of the meeting, a few others spoke out against approving the $6 million and about eight spoke in favor of the allocation.

“I support a permanent fire station; public safety should be our top priority,” commented Greenfield resident Sandy Thomas.

The council approved $10 million for the new fire station project earlier this year, but soon realized it would need more. The project is expected to cost $17.3 million, which includes $1.9 million for the temporary station to be built — the council has, to date, allocated $16 million and Mayor Roxann Wedegartner said she plans to use grants and other funding to cover the balance. The open-air market property at Main Street and Coombs Avenue is the proposed site for a permanent station, although the city is still in negotiations with the owner.

But, with a raging pandemic and the city’s economy as it is, Thomas said the city should have built the new permanent fire station first, allowing the department to stay put until construction was complete, saving the cost of building a temporary station. Others echoed her concerns, including Greenfield residents Don Babits, Dawn Morin, Ellen Thompson, Stephanie Duclos and Lois St. Germain.

In the end, City Council Vice President and Ways and Means Committee Chair Otis Wheeler reported that the committee voted unanimously to recommend that the full council approve the $6 million.

“We look at options,” he said. “Alternate options would not save the city money.”

Precinct 2 Councilor Daniel Guin said taxpayers won’t see huge increases because the money will “become part of what is spent” by the city each year. “This is the right step.”

Precinct 5 Councilor Timothy Dolan reminded people that fire service can’t be interrupted, so building a temporary fire station is the only option and building a permanent one is completely necessary, while At-Large Councilor Philip Elmer said he believes after talking with the city’s finance director that Greenfield can afford to allocate the extra $6 million.

Gilmour said she is concerned about “optics.” She said some residents believe there’s a “fix” going on, and that the project is being pushed through too quickly.

“I think we should table the motion,” Gilmour proposed. “We really need to take a breath and think.”

Councilors Doug Mayo (Precinct 8), Ed Jarvis (Precinct 1), Christine Forgey (at-large), John Bottomley (Precinct 4), Virginia DeSorgher (Precinct 3), Penny Ricketts (at-large) and Norm Hirschfeld (Precinct 9) said they all want to see the project to completion because firefighters deserve it. Forgey added that the city needs to be as transparent as possible throughout the entire project, updating residents and making sure they are apprised of everything going on.

After the vote was taken, Wedegartner asked to speak and said, “We will do you all proud.”

Reach Anita Fritz at 413-772-9591 or afritz@recorder.com.

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