Northfield revives consideration of public safety complex

  • The Northfield Fire Department is located at 93 Main St. Recorder Staff/SHELBY ASHLINE

Recorder Staff
Published: 8/14/2017 6:37:52 PM

NORTHFIELD — An old idea is coming to light again in Northfield, where the Emergency Services Facility Committee has reconvened to consider building a public safety complex.

According to committee Chairman Floyd “Skip” Dunnell III, who is also fire chief and emergency management director, the building would ideally put the Fire Department, Police Department, Emergency Medical Services (EMS) and emergency management under one roof.

“Hopefully we can find a home on (the fire station’s) parcel for fire, EMS, police and emergency management,” Dunnell said. “All of the emergency services have a need for a permanent home.”

Long-lasting discussion

Jack Spanbauer, Selectboard chairman, said the concept has long been in town officials’ thoughts.

“It’s been in our minds for 10 years or more, and we just haven’t been able to implement anything to date,” he said. “We’re hoping this time around is a little more successful.”

In fact, Dunnell said the committee first convened several years ago, hiring a consultant to assess the space needs of each department and develop a building plan. According to Recorder archives, the plan involved purchasing and demolishing a 12-family apartment building next door.

However, voters at the 2012 annual town meeting defeated the proposed $7.5 million complex, as well as the adjacent land purchase. The idea fell dormant, Dunnell said, with the committee eventually reconvening this February.

“There was some money that was still allocated for studying the public safety building concept,” committee member and EMS Chief Mark Fortier said of the reason for reconvening. “The Selectboard wanted to know what the status of that money was.”

Spanbauer and Dunnell said $25,000 had been appropriated for a land survey and preliminary drawings.

‘Something’s gotta be done’

Members of the committee and town officials believe having a public safety complex would be an improvement for all departments involved.

“Something’s gotta be done one way or another, even if no one moves,” Spanbauer said. “We’d like to get things organized, fix all the structure problems and if we’re going to do that much, we might as well get everyone in one building.”

Dunnell said the fire station, built in 1953, is starting to show its age. Though a 1988 survey done on the concrete floor showed it was stronger than the department needed at the time, Dunnell said fire equipment has grown bigger and heavier over the years, so much so that firefighters can no longer park larger vehicles on the station’s upper floor. The town also needs to purchase custom-built vehicles to fit through the arch doors, he said.

Meanwhile, Spanbauer said the Police Department is “rather cramped,” occupying downstairs space in Town Hall, and EMS currently leases the former Sunoco station at 41 Main St. Fortier suggested having a public safety complex would improve camaraderie between the departments while possibly saving the town money.

“By consolidation, you can save on the expense of having multiple buildings,” he said.

Dunnell is unsure if the current fire station would be remodeled and added onto, or if a new building would be constructed altogether.

“We’d like to try to utilize parts of this building because it is appealing from Main Street,” Dunnell said of the fire station. “Sometimes renovation isn’t cost-effective. But you don’t know until you get down to the nitty-gritty.”

What Dunnell does want, he said, is a cost-effective solution that will serve the departments decades into the future, and that they won’t soon outgrow.

Further along than ever

The 11-member committee has tackled some obstacles already, Dunnell explained. For example, the property where the fire station is located lacks a registered deed, which Dunnell said town counsel is working to draft. The Conservation Commission also helped delineate the property’s wetlands.

Additionally, a surveyor was called to label the lot’s boundaries which had been unclear, Dunnell said. Through the process, the committee found the lot is larger than was originally believed.

What the town owns, Dunnell said, is a 104-foot by 952-foot lot stretching alongside School Street from Main Street to East Street. It amounts to just over two acres, he said, and the adjacent lot with the apartment building is no longer being considered.

The committee continues to make progress. Last week, aided by Town Administrator Willie Morales and a chief procurement officer from the Franklin Regional Council of Governments, the committee conducted interviews to select an owner’s project manager. Morales said Cardinal Construction Inc. of Worcester was selected after narrowing down the search to three applicants.

Dunnell said Cardinal Construction Inc. was well-informed about Northfield and the parcel, came with high references and is experienced in building public service facilities.

Next, Morales said the company will need to execute a contract with the Selectboard. Dunnell said the company will craft possible designs for a building that would fit on the fire station’s lot.

“We’re further along than we have been,” Dunnell said optimistically. He hopes to have preliminary designs in three to four months.

Reach Shelby Ashline at: sashline@recorder.com

413-772-0261, ext. 257


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