Board Votes Safety Complex to Ballot

December 5, 2014
by S. Aaron Shamshoyan

Aging infrastructure is a constant battle for a municipality, and a proposal put before selectmen this week would replace two aging buildings with one.

Voters in March will decide whether a new 54,000-square-foot public safety complex will be constructed on Veterans Memorial Parkway combining both the police and fire departments.

“A new joint safety complex at Veterans Memorial Parkway is viable,” said Selectman James Keller after months of research with a committee.  “The plan, in fact, is supported by both fire and police.”

The new building would be constructed on the current police department property and would carry a $23 million price tag.

“We must always be cognizant and balance the cost with the function,” Keller said.

The new facility would feature a seven-bay garage for the fire department, joint dispatch area, community/emergency operations center room, as well as adequate space for operations and meet new standards and regulations.  The building would also be ADA compliant, something the existing facilities are not.

But the property exhibits some challenges, including a large amount of wetlands, some needing to be filled in.

“We’re proposing to fill 1.9 acres of wetland,” said Keller.  “We have 32 acres that will be set aside.”

In order to fill the wetland, the state required an area 15 times the size to be reserved for mitigation, both high land and wet.  An abutting property would need to be purchased to meet the requirement, and Keller said an agreement has been reached for the parcel.

Once complete, 32 acres would be deed restricted, preventing anything from being built on the land in the future.

The proposal has been approved by the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services, the Environmental Protection Agency, Army Corp of Engineers, and New Hampshire Fish and Game.

If voters approve the plan in March, about $21 million would be bonded for the project in July 2015, with $1.65 million coming from other sources.

Those sources include public safety impact fees, the police asset forfeiture fund, traffic impact fees, the police detail fund, and about $900,000 from the unreserved general fund to be replaced by the sale of Central and Old North fire properties.

Keller said the bond wouldn’t be taken until July so the first payment wouldn’t come until 2016, giving voters more time to plan for the increase.

Requests for proposal would be issued through June for the project, followed by design with construction beginning in 2016 and coming to a close in the first couple months of 2018.

The police side would first be constructed to the right of the existing building, and the department would move in once completed.  From there, the existing department would be demolished, and the fire department side would be built in its place.

Keller said it was important to move forward with the project immediately as likely non-reproducible agreements were in place for both the wetland mitigation and property acquirement.

“We have the green light now and we really need to act upon that agreement,” he said.  “We really have a situation from a timing perspective where things are lining up very nicely.”

A majority of the board favored the proposal, stating the need to replace the two building and construct the new safety complex.

“I think it’s a good thing for Salem,” said Chairman Patrick Hargreaves.  “I’m happy.

Selectman Everett McBride agreed.  “The team’s done a great job.  I’m ready to move forward with it.”

Lyons said it was time to replace the facilities in town.  “I think the community’s ready for it,” he said.

Selectman Stephen Campbell disagreed with the proposal, fearing it was the wrong time to replace the buildings due to cost concerns.  He noted the tax increase of 46 cents per thousand for the first and highest year of the 20-year bond, adding the high school renovation was recently passed by voters and already an expense for taxpayers.

“The other side of the street just continues to spend money like it’s on the tree outback,” he said referencing the school district.

McBride said two water bonds and a $431,000 debt would be paid off in the next couple of years, reducing the impact on taxpayers.

“We are trying to plan it so that we don’t bump the tax rate significantly,” he said.  “It’s time.  It has come time for Salem to get its safety complex.”

The board voted 4-1 to place the article on the ballot with Campbell in opposition.