January 23, 2019TILTON – For several years, the Tilton-Northfield Fire District has been grappling with the dilemma of what to do about the condition of the Center Street Station in Tilton, a lack of necessary space at the Park Street Station in Northfield, as well as response times and other issues throughout the district.
Proposals have been brought to voters in the past, only to be rejected, but this time a committee investigating a more equitable solution believes the district has finally come up with a plan that people in both towns can agree upon.
The Center Street Station was built in 1867, with an addition tacked on in 1895. While it has been renovated a number of times since then, it still is in need of much more improvement. Unfortunately, there is no room for either expansion nor the necessary improvements that will meet the needs of firefighters in the 21st century.
Among the many issues with the historic building is that the very foundation is failing and, with two equipment bays on the street level and offices and staff quarters high above, it is non-ADA compliant. Chief Sitar said the structure also does not meet the current Life Safety Code.
"It's a fact that if we were to acquire this building today, we would not get a certificate of occupancy for it," Sitar said.
At an added cost to the district, purchases of equipment to be housed in the station must be specially engineered to fit the space available and even than, egress onto Main Street in downtown Tilton is narrow and dangerous.
"Getting onto Main Street from here for emergencies is ridiculous," the chief said.
Over at Park Street in Northfield, the station there was constructed in 1986 as a garage with hopes to later expand the facility. That expansion has since never been approved by district voters, leaving it more than 30 years later as only a storage site for most of the equipment and apparatus due to a lack of space at the Center Street station.
"When we get a call, a lot of times the crews have to run over to Park St. to get what they need and that impacts our response to an emergency," Sitar explained.
There is also no living space for on duty crew members and neither of the two buildings have decontamination facilities, nor proper storage for medical equipment and supplies.
With that and other issues facing the district, this latest proposal hopes to alleviate those problems.
Sitar said that while a new station within the Village District of Tilton would be ideal, there is virtually no land available that would be suitable for a new fire station. However, an economic development company in New Ipswich has offered to sell a tract of land they own on Manville Road, off Route 3 in Tilton, for the price of just $1.
It does come with conditions, though. Sitar said the district would be responsible for making offsite improvements to the road and utilities available there. The cost for those improvements is estimated at $595,000, the true value of the land being offered. Those improvements would eventually aid that company in developing the remainder of the land they own on Manville Road.
The design of the station being proposed on that property would not only meet the needs of the department but would help provide more centralized coverage for the district. There would be space for standardized apparatus, living quarters, decontamination facilities, administration offices and living quarters for an overnight crew.
Also included in this proposal would be renovations to Park Street Station. The four bays would continue to house necessary apparatus for that area of the district while the back of the building would be converted to provide a decontamination room, storage space, a day room, and living quarters for firefighters and EMTs. The plan would further provide a small bunkroom for any fire safety students who intern with the department.
The greatest benefit, Sitar said, is the response times this configuration would give to one of the busiest departments in the Lakes Region.
"These two stations would provide much better response times. Eighty-percent of the incidents we respond to will be with that four-minute response time window from either station," he said.
The district has been investigating several options to keep the cost at a minimum and commissioners feel they have come up with a reasonable price that will serve the public well.
The total project is guaranteed not to exceed more than $7,196,540. With $296,000 available from the Land and Building Fund, $159,650 available in the Apparatus and Equipment Fund and an additional $7,000 that could be withdrawn from the Fire Prevention Fund, the total 20-year bonded cost to taxpayers would be $6,733,890.
At a 2.5-percent interest rate on that bond, Tilton would absorb 62-percent of the cost and Northfield would pay 38-percent, leaving each town with a tax rate impact of 58-cents each toward the expense due to their valuations.
Broken down, in Tilton, where the median home value is $215,500, the cost per thousand in the first year would be $124.99, while in Northfield, where the median home is valued at $225,100, the increase would be $123.81.
Sitar said he and the commissioners encourage all interested parties to attend the district's annual budget hearing at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 13, in the Winnisquam High School cafetorium. At that time, a full explanation of the public safety issues, needs and expense considered by this latest facilities committee, as well as a presentation on the building and renovation proposals, will be presented.