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Editorial: City wise to slow down on public safety complex plan

  • Greenfield Police Station on High Street. Recorder file photo


Tuesday, September 11, 2018

The mayor’s most recent plan for a combined police-fire station downtown has to be the shakiest building proposals we’ve seen in ages.
We were glad to see that the City Council didn’t allow itself to get rushed into buying into the plan to build on leased land to the tune of about $60 million over 30 years from developers who have been sitting on the old Knapp Hardware property, perhaps waiting for just such a potentially sweet deal — for them.

But what’s been proposed so far would likely go sour for Greenfield taxpayers.

The city’s leaders seem to agree that Greenfield could use a new police station, a new fire station and a new library. While officials have been talking about replacing all three for years, the pressure is on now to adopt a specific public safety complex plan because the state has offered a take-it-now-or-leave-it $9.4 million grant toward a planned $20.5 million library. But the proposed library would sit where the current outdated fire station is today. So we have to quickly find a site for what has been envisioned as a combined police-fire-dispatch station — quickly.

The plan Mayor Martin has come up with is to lease the land under the old Knapp building, with frontage on Main Street and Wells Street, to tear down the old rambling structure and to build a new station, with police facing Main and the fire department facing Wells. This would cost something like $60 million over 30 years.

There’s a lot of questions about the details of such a deal with owner Dyer Investment that have gone unanswered so far.

Last month the City Council, worried about losing the library grant through inaction, allowed Martin to continue negotiating with Dyer but refused to approve Martin’s plan.

Phew.

After sleeping on it, City Councilor Otis Wheeler filed to reconsider the decision, so that on Sept. 19 the council will revisit the whole proposition. This is a smart move. The council should take the next few days to gather as much information and as many ideas as possible so they can settle on the best plan possible. The best plan possible is probably not what the mayor is proposing currently. they should look closely at the details of the proposed lease deal. The devil — and the reason not to do something — is always in the details.

“I really had a change of heart myself,” Wheeler said. “I don’t see the support on the council or in the community for the public safety complex in the same way I see it for the library.”

Councilor Sheila Gilmour felt the same way: “Right now, I feel pressure because I want the library, but this is not the best thing for Greenfield, and I’d like to go back to the drawing board.”

She’s right. There are probably ways to locate a police-fire station that’s downtown and less costly and doesn’t take land off the tax rolls and doesn’t leave the city beholding to a landlord for decades.

We’ve already heard several ideas circulating that conceptually, at least, make a lot more sense than the mayor’s current plan. We have to give Martin credit for trying to address the city’s brick and mortar needs with projects like the parking garage, Zon Community Center for seniors — and now the public safety complex and library.

But we shouldn’t be rushed into a bad deal that has so much potential to go sour.