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No consensus yet in TNFD 10-year plan proposal

October 28, 2009
TILTON — With an eye on the future, members of the Comprehensive Facilities Review Committee met Monday night to discuss independently composed ideas for the next 10 years in the Tilton-Northfield Fire District.

Ideas varied from a Building and Land fund increase for renovations at Central Street station to temporary repairs and eventual replacement of the building. The balance of the district's Land and Building Fund currently sits at $230,000. Two plans called for adding to this fund in amounts of $100,000 to $150,000 over the next few years, building toward major reconstruction in one plan and saving for an eventual land purchase and construction of a new building in 2018 in the other.

Two committee members backed a life safety building in the near future. Commissioner Paul Auger, however, said he had many questions as to how a life safety complex would be maintained, and costs, staffing and a Route 3 location made him hesitant about the plan.

Nearly all agreed on one plan though: an addition to the Park Street Station in Northfield.

After each proposal was read, the committee discussed how to proceed with melding these ideas into one plan.

Sandy Plessner, representing the Tilton selectmen on the committee, pointed out that, besides the Park Street addition, a commonality seemed to be that Central Street Station was in poor condition.

"We shouldn't wait too long to close Center Street," she said.

Not everyone was in agreement about closing the station though. Commissioner Kevin Waldron felt a study should be done to see what renovations could be made to the aging station to continue its use as sleeping quarters while moving office space, a meeting room and storage into a Park Street addition. Costs for Central Street could be spread out in phases, he said, so as not to incur any expense to the district taxpayers.

However, most members were concerned with the lack of ADA compliance in the building and the fact that there is no fire escape from the second floor's office and living quarters.

Commissioner Tom Gallant felt that should be rectified as soon as possible. His plans called for the construction of a fire escape and some "band-aid" living space adjustments to be made as soon as possible in order to make the station "tolerable" for the staff while investing in a future plan for a new station or life safety complex.

There was also discussion on moving living quarters to the second floor of an addition at Park Street station, but questions on what ADA regulations said about living quarters for firefighters came into play. Those regulations would ultimately affect costs for an addition if elevators and other compliance measures were necessary. The group eventually decided to consult the Legal Government Center to clarify the matter.

"It's pretty clear there are some different ideas," Waldron said. "The biggest difference between these plans is the life safety complex. How do you get someone who is on board or not on board with it to change their mind?"

Gallant said that participating in research for a life safety complex was not committing the district to the idea. Working with the LSBC as they look into the feasibility of a complex would cost the district nothing and could be key in deciding on the next step for the TNFD. Waldron had stated previously that working with the LSBC might give district voters the impression that the commission was in agreement with a complex, but Gallant disagreed.

"I think it just gives the impression that we're interested. We should take advantage of something that will cost us nothing. It's a no-brainer if you ask me," Gallant said.

Plessner and Northfield Selectman Steve Bluhm added that working with the LSBC now would allow the district more say in their conceptual design proposal and might be advantageous to the district.

Waldron maintained that the fire district is a separate entity and should remain so. While he continues to hear that the district would not have to go along with the final LSBC recommendations, he said he keeps feeling "a push" toward doing so.

"I believe in a stand-alone building sometime in the future. There are no dates on my plan," Waldron said.

Gallant contended that buying land and constructing a building on their own would only cost the district more money down the road.

Tilton Police Captain Owen Wellington, a member of the LSBC, was sitting in on the meeting and asked to speak. He agreed that temporary, much-needed repairs to Central Street like a fire escape were a good idea, but a complete renovation to the building would not help the matter of response times to all four corners of the district. Relocation to property east of Exit 20, like the LSBC was proposing, might be a better long-term solution.

"It doesn't make sense to put money into a hole if it's not going to provide you with better coverage," he said.

Again Waldron disagreed, saying that coverage to East Tilton, a subject that has arisen frequently in discussions on response times, was not an issue.

"No information I have shows more than 30 percent of our calls are in East Tilton. We'll continue to serve them but how much money do you spend to service 30 percent? I'm not crying over service to East Tilton. I believe it's adequate," Waldron said.

After nearly two hours of discussion it was decided that Bluhm would compile ideas from the five plans, using their common threads, and whittle the ideas into two long-term plans for the committee to then consider. Since Gallant's plan mentioned specific temporary renovations to Central Street, Bluhm asked if he could submit those plans to him on paper. Gallant promised to provide him with a design along with a cost estimate for the construction. The committee will consider Bluhm's findings at the next meeting.

Matin Lord Osman
Salmon Press
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