Voters put the brakes on public safety complex

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

Recorder Staff
Monday, December 04, 2017

NORTHFIELD — A new public safety complex could still be developed in Northfield, but that will be put on hold for now.

At a special town meeting held Monday evening, voters agreed unanimously to first pay up to $15,000 for the town to work to find a deed for the intended plot of land — and secondly, unanimously agreed to pass over an article that would have allowed the town to spend $68,825 on a Phase II design plan for a proposed public safety complex.

The vote followed months of work by an emergency services facility committee to figure out a feasible plan for a public safety complex — bringing together the facilities of the emergency medical services, fire and police departments — which will now enter a necessary initial research stage, while pushing off any more costly plans to likely be decided at the 2018 annual town meeting.

“We are not ready at this point to do this,” said Emergency Services Facility Committee Chairman Floyd “Skip Dunnell III, the town’s fire chief, before about 50 people in the town that gathered for the special meeting held at Pioneer Valley Regional School.

All of this came on the heels of what Dunnell dubbed as misinformation that swirled around the town to suggest the final project could cost Northfield somewhere roughly around $10 and $11 million.

“I’m going to tell you as the chairman and fire chief I would not be standing up here to tell you to buy into a $9.8 million project,” Dunnell said. “I’m also a taxpayer.”

Instead, the current state of the public safety complex is as follows: with the $15,000 the voters approved Monday evening, the town can now conduct a title search of the plot of land, then from there figure out whether that plot is good to build on, all the while offering the public information about the need for it before the 2018 annual town meeting.

The $15,000 for the title search was not originally planned by the special committee looking on how to build a public safety complex at the site of the town’s fire station. When doing preliminary research, Dunnell and the committee found out that the land was not, in fact, clearly listed in the hands of the town. Instead, Dunnell said, they will likely have to look back to colonial times to get an accurate owner of the space.

It’s important to have the proper deed for the land, Dunnell said, because it will be difficult to seek the proper financing of the project without the deed. So Monday Northfield residents approved the first step necessary to begin seriously considering a future cost of this to the town.

Further, Dunnell explained to the town that during preliminary digging around the fire station by the highway department and soil engineers, they found some debris from the school that previously occupied that location. That places an additional wrinkle in the planning, because now Dunnell is unsure how many square feet of building area they have to potentially build on.

In the meantime, the town will work on a series of educational opportunities for the public so that they can learn more about the need they see for the complex.

EMS Chief Mark Fortier invited the public to come by their facilities to check out the space they have and the space they could need.

The Finance Committee endorsed the project, but wanted to make it clear that a lot more work needs to be done at this stage.

“It’s not that we’re against the project at all,” Lois Stearns, chairwoman, said. “We’re in favor of it — but at the right time.”

Other articles 

Everything proposed and recommended by the town was approved Monday evening at special town meeting that moved quickly and ended fast. 

An article to approve the necessary drainage repairs at Northfield Elementary School passed unanimously, following a slight tweak in the article’s wording to reflect the need for associated concrete drainage, too. The vote allows the town to spend up to $16,700 on the task. 

The only item of the evening that received any dissenting vote was in regards to setting up a moratorium on recreational pot in town. Ultimately, the temporary moratorium passed overwhelmingly to allow the town to reconvene at the start of 2019 to discuss where a possible pot shop could go in town. 

The moratorium vote yields the town more time to mull over guidelines that will be presented by a special commission for the state in March, which the town suggested is too close to the time to put forward additional articles at their annual town meeting.  

“This is not a matter of yes or no of whether we’ll accept something in our community but a matter of where in our community,” Selectboard Chairwoman Tracy Rogers said. 

You can reach Joshua Solomon at:


413-772-0261, ext. 264