Will the Third Time be a Charm?
September 9, 2016
by Len Lathrop
As the town leaders are looking toward the March elections, the question is what will the voters approve, and what questions will voters be presented to approve. From the school district ballot there is no projection at this time of any big dollar questions.
The question this September is what information and/or changes are needed to get the 60 percent of the voters’ approval to pass a bond to finance the project. At the request of several selectmen, Fire Chief Robert Buxton refreshed the information and the cost projections to put the station on a piece of town-owned land on Lowell Road, next to the driveway of the Mission Pointe complex, somewhat across from the Fairview Nursing complex.
When before the selectmen on Tuesday, Aug. 23, before the chief could make his presentation, the question of a different location on Lowell Road caused a heated debate relative to the issue if that section of the chief’s report should be discussed during the public section of the meeting or held and then reviewed in the non-public section (which is not taped or broadcast live).
After receiving the report later in the week, the hubbub seemed unnecessary; the following information is the report from Chief Buxton to the selectmen.
As we begin to prepare the FY18 budget request the Fire Department has started to review the proposal for the replacement station for South Hudson. As you are aware, this project has been defeated at the ballot the past two budget cycles. The need for this new facility is even more critical today for a few different reasons; the current facility is three years older, construction costs continue to increase and service demand on the emergency services continues to grow. Below you will find a review of the current facility, past proposals, site justification and possible funding options.
The current facility is located in south Hudson at 88 Burns Hill Rd. This facility was originally built in 1981 as a substation that was staffed by the members of the call department. Full-time staffing did not begin to operate out of this facility on a consistent twenty four hour basis until 2001. To date, the facility has not had any major update. The facility houses three employees who operate out of less than 800 square feet. This space is broken down as follows:
Combination Supervisor office/dormitory
This is one large room that is separated by temporary walls that creates semiprivate areas.
One bathroom/shower area
A review of the site shows a facility that is serviced by a private well and sewer. Floor drains from the apparatus floor enter into an oil/water separator that is then discharged into the town’s storm water system. On each side of the facility is an area of wetland that limits the expansion to the right or left of the facility with the boundary line for the rear of the property running along the backside of the current facility.
The current facility does not lend itself to renovation without additional space being added. As we reviewed in the past, expansion of the current facility on site would be extremely difficult.
During the FY17 budget process we put together a projected cost estimate for adding 2,000 square feet to the building and bring municipal services to this location so we could remove the current private well and septic system. This estimate came in at $2,370,000.
As we proposed this project we did not feel this was a cost efficient path for this project to take.
We are proposing the construction of a modern fire station with up to date firematic support. This facility is planned to be a single floor building that will be required to meet all ADA requirements along with all current building and fire codes. As a piece of critical infrastructure it would be constructed with emergency power capabilities, traffic control and efficient mechanical, electrical and plumbing programs. The proposal offers a building that not only meets our needs today but is built to handle the futuristic needs of the community.
As you are aware, we have proposed the utilization of town owned land located at 204 Lowell Rd. for the construction of the new facility. This parcel is supported by sewer, water and natural gas. This would allow for a reduced cost of construction. The utilization of parcel of land not supported by public utilities would require additional cost to the proposed budget. This estimate would be in the area of $250,000 for the purposes of private well and septic, additional fire protection cost and appropriate storm water management programs.
This site provides direct access to major roadway infrastructure utilized for emergency response in this area of town. Additionally, this location also increased our service delivery to our customers that utilize the emergency service division in this area of town. A relocation of the station from the current site on Burns Hill Road to the proposed new location on Lowell Road would increase service to 307 households and 191 parcels of property.
One of the concerns regarding the selected site has been the impact on the traffic on Lowell Road.
We understand this concern, traffic has been a concern on Lowell Road for several years and as a community we need to continue to support initiatives to reduce this congestion. From a Fire Department perspective we would continue to utilize traffic control devices to allow for the processing of emergency apparatus through the traffic. We also believe with the facility on Lowell Road there would be less interruption because we would have direct access to Lowell Road and not have to move the traffic form Wason Road to Lowell Road ultimately increasing traffic congestion. As you are aware the road infrastructure in this area of town is very limited and the utilization of smaller and narrower roadways with large fire apparatus impacts our response and service delivery.
We did look at the potential of considering a different location for this facility. The emergency services delivered by the Fire Department are currently accomplished out of three facilities which support each other. So, when we look at achieving our response times we need to make sure that a relocation will not have an adverse effect on another area of town. A move to far north on Lowell Road impacts the response times in the primary response district and a move to far south will impact town wide service. The area that we have targeted for the station location that would have the greatest impact on our service delivery would be from the area of 200 Lowell Rd. to the area known as Stuart Corner. This area provides the best response routes and greatest impact to our service delivery. Any move from the currently proposed location would require an increase in land accusation efforts and ultimately increase the overall cost of the project.
As you are aware, this will be the third year we propose this project. Over the last two budget cycles we have seen a construction cost that has escalated at a rate of 5 percent. Fortunately last year the interest rate remained very low so the overall cost of the warrant article did not escalate that great of a rate but did increase to a cost of $2.2 million.
This year we have received an estimated construction cost for this project of $2.9 million.
The question that has been asked is how are we experiencing such a high increase in construction cost for the same project that was proposed last year? The answer that has been received is that with the elevation in commercial construction activities and the increase of product has led to this increase. I have requested the impact of this new cost estimate to the overall bond cost that would be associated to the average home. We estimated this during the previous bond article preparation which was an annual cost of $28 and a total cost over a 10-year bond of $280. These numbers are based on an average single family home value of $256,000.
As we discussed during a recent Board of Selectmen’s meeting, we believe we should look at how we are financing this initiative so we put forward an achievable goal. A few examples to this potential thought process would be to utilize the proceeds the town has gathered from the sale of Town property to offset the overall cost of this project. A second thought would be to utilize a combination of this fund and a withdrawal from unassigned fund balance to greatly reduce the overall impact to the tax rate. The ideas are conversation starters so we can jointly develop a funding plan that will make this project successful.
March is just the other side of the upcoming holidays; there will be more information as the time gets closer. But the relocation of the fire station in the south end of Hudson is before the selectmen at this junction.
At their meeting on Sept. 6, the board of selectmen decided that the replacement fire station will go on March election ballot as a warrant article. The price tag will be around $2.9 million, and the location is 204 Lowell Road if approved as the site. The funding formula has not been finalized at this point in time and will be worked on before the election.