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Commissioners bar chief from speaking with architects



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Commissioners Kevin Waldron, Paul Auger and Tom Gallant (left to right) listen as the Life Safety Building committee argues for the right to have an architect speak with fire department staff for a conceptual life safety building design. Donna Rhodes. (click for larger version)
October 21, 2009
TILTON — The Tilton-Northfield Fire District commissioners meeting turned into a lively discussion last Thursday when the Tilton selectmen and representatives of Tilton's Life Safety Building Committee appeared before the board.

LSBC Chairman Ben LaBelle came as a formality, he said, to ask permission for Fire Chief Stephen Carrier and Deputy Chief Michael Robinson to meet with Goudreau & Associates about needs the fire department may have should a life safety building become a reality for the two towns. The architects requested time to meet with the two and find out what specific needs the department would have in order to draw up their program for an eventual design.

"They're looking for raw data. This is a study we're paying for. We can't design a fire station, and this is just a conceptual right now. Information from this will be available to you in the future," he said.

The hope of the LSBC is that the design might reflect the needs of the communities of Tilton and Northfield in the future.

Commission Chair Kevin Waldron immediately said no, adding that while the LSBC might be driven toward developing a life safety complex, the fire district might not decide to go along with the plan. When and if that became the goal of the fire district he would allow access to the chief and deputy chief.

"You're wasting your time until then," said Waldron.

Commissioner Tom Gallant disagreed, saying he felt the district would be wise to work with the LSBC and their architects to design a building "tailored to meet the needs of the district." With no cost being incurred by the district he thought it would make sense to go along with a conceptual design.

"I believe we should pursue that. Make the chief and deputy available on their own time if you want. My resources, for whatever they're worth, will be available, too," Gallant said.

Commissioner Paul Auger disagreed with Gallant and felt that the district should not get locked into going in the direction of a life safety building. Auger told the committee that things change in time and he could not see any use for designs drawn up now, 10 years down the road.

Gallant protested, saying, "What's it cost to act? Nothing. Not to act? A lot."

Tilton Selectman Katherine Dawson also protested the refusal of the two commissioners, saying that as taxpayers and a part of the district they should have access to conversing with the chief of their fire department. Waldron, however, felt that the architects had done a few of this type of design in the past and should not even need to speak with TNFD staff.

Selectman Sandra Plessner, also a member of the Comprehensive Facilities Review Committee with the commissioners, who made a lengthy plea, asking that the commissioners allow the two men to talk with the architect. "This is America. How can you tell them not to talk?" Plessner asked. "We want what's best for the district and have invited Northfield to work with us. It's so hard to comprehend why this is such an issue."

Waldron said he felt this was an infliction of their (Tilton's) wishes on the district.

"I get the impression that if we don't pass this you're going to bulldoze us," he said.

Tilton representatives from the select board and the LSBC both tried to

re-emphasize that information gathered from any talks between the fire department and the architect were strictly for conceptual purposes.

Should the district decide anywhere down the road to join in as a life safety complex, plans and designs would already be in place and all information would be handed over to the district to use.

The CFRC has decided on an Oct. 26 date for laying out their own plans that may or may not include a decision to go with the joint facility.

Deputy Chief Robinson is not only on the LSBC but also a member of the sub-committee for Building Design and Construction. Since the turmoil began over whether the commissioners would cooperate he has abstained from sub-committee meetings on the matter, saying he was not going to go against any ruling by the commission and would await a resolution between the two.

In the meantime, Goudreau & Associates have laid out a timeline, which calls for a deadline of Oct. 23 for them to assemble information on needs of Tilton's police department and TNFD in order to draw up their plans. The commission's unwillingness to cooperate at this time would hold this process up, LSB members told them.

Gallant made a motion for the Fire District to allow these talks, but it failed in a 2-1 vote.

Dawson advised the commissioners that not allowing this conversation with the architects was most likely illegal according to RSA 91A. She asked that Waldron address attorneys at Legal Government Center about the matter. Waldron said he would do that but did not give a specific date. When the LSBC members reminded him that time was of the essence, he said he would contact the LSBC the next day and call them with an answer. As of Monday evening Tilton officials reported that there was no response on what the LGC attorney advised. Committee members, with an eye on the calendar, are hopeful that an opportunity to have Goudreau's firm meet with the chief will be allowed before it is too late to include their data in the designs.

The next meeting for the Comprehensive Facilities Review Committee will take place on Oct. 26 at 6 p.m. in the New Student Building of the Tilton School.

Garnet Hill
Martin Lord Osman
Penny Pitou
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