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Article 26 Committee pitches options for fixing space crunch


January 14, 2010
FREEDOM — After nine months of deliberations, the Article 26 Committee finally came up with recommendations to deal with space crunch issues at the police department, fire station, and the town office.

Last week, Article 26 Committee voted unanimously to present multiple options to selectmen. However, committee member John Krebs was absent. On Monday, Article 26 Committee chairman John Shipman presented the committee's recommendations to selectmen, who will put these options to the voters at town meeting in March:

Renovate and expand the existing fire station on Village Road and attach a new police station to form a new safety complex. The building would be approximately 13,384 square feet and would cost an estimated $2.7 million. The price includes money for buying nearly an acre from an abutter.

Then the committee recommends letting voters chose between the following options for dealing with the town office:

1. Renovate and expand the current town office on Old Portland Road to make it a total of 5,236 square feet. The current town office is about 2,700 square feet. Doing so would cost an estimated $1.07 million plus the costs of dealing with hazardous materials (lead paint and asbestos), and the purchase of 9,000 square feet of land from an abutter.

2. Or, adding a 2,810 square foot town office to the proposed safety complex at an estimated cost of $454,300 plus money for maintaining and stabilizing the existing town office until an alternative use is found. The attached town office option doesn't need to be as big as the previous option because the town office would share common spaces with the safety complex including a meeting room, a boiler room, bathrooms, etc. (Abutters to the town office and fire station have signed letters of intent indicating they would be willing to sell land to the town).

Shipman explained the committee's rational for its recommendations during Monday night's selectmen's meeting.

"We felt there was enough consensus to at least recommend putting police and the fire station on that site," said Shipman. "There was a lot more contention obviously about the town office. There are strong feelings either way. (Some said) 'We use this building, it's historical.' There were also strong feelings that the building has overstayed its use and we should move out of it."

The cost estimates the committee is working with may need to be adjusted. The total cost of the entire project may be close to $3.5 million according to consultants, said Shipman. After the town meeting, town officials will get firmer costs for the options that voters select.

Selectmen said they hope a bond passes this year because interest rates are low.

These options were selected out of a field of nine that the committee identified since its formation in late April of 2009. Over the last nine months the committee met 19 times and attendance ranged from 12 to 60 residents. The other committee members are Chuck Brooks, John Krebs, Lee Fritz, and Selectmen's Chair Les Babb.

At last week's Article 26 Committee meeting committee members had some concerns about how to write the warrant articles so they would pass muster with the New Hampshire Department of Revenue.

On Monday, Babb said discussions with DRA have yielded a possible solution. That is to first ask residents to approve a bond to fix the deficiencies in the buildings. The bond would require a two-thirds majority to pass. Then if the bond passes, residents would be able to vote on either of the two options, which would only require a majority to pass.

Fire Station details

The committee chose not to demolish the existing fire station because doing so would cost an additional $195,000. Fire Chief Gene Doe didn't express any preference for demolishing or renovating the existing station at the Article 26 meeting last week. But he did want better access to Village Road. Because the grade is steep on the western side of the fire station's driveway, the fire station would have to expand further east. A portion of an abutter's property has to be purchased to make the addition possible.

If residents chose to renovate the existing fire station, it would expand from three to six bays. Two of the original bays would be kept.

Space is so tight at the fire station that when the rescue vehicle is parked inside, its rear bumper slides right under the tanker truck's front bumper. Doe said the fire department also needs space drying fire hoses and washing firefighter's protective gear, which would make the equipment last longer. Training space would also make life easier at the fire department, which currently trains at the elementary school.

Space isn't the only issue at the fire department. There are also health concerns with the station, which was built in 1978. Because there's no exhaust system, diesel fumes linger in the air. Doe showed a reporter some insulation from behind the office wall, which had turned from pink to black because of the diesel soot.

"This is what we're breathing in," said Doe. "Diesel smoke is definitely not good for you."

Town Office

The town office building also needs some work to remain viable building. For instance, the furnace should be kept in a fire-protected room or it has to have a sprinkler system over it.

For lack of space, town records are filed near the furnace, and are only shielded by a sheet rock wall on one side. The town office would also need a fire alarm and fire suppression systems, said officials. The office is also not in compliance with the American with Disabilities Act, the largest problem being the lack of an elevator to the second floor.

The committee decided if the current town office is to be used, the square footage should be expanded to 5,236 square feet. The committee looked at smaller and larger additions as well, but found the middle option was optimal.

If voters approve the middle option, the inside of the town office building would totally revamped. But the exterior would look the same from the front because the addition would be built in the back. On the inside, a large meeting room would be created on the first floor, which would preserve the historical feel of the building as it had served as a schoolhouse from 1895 to 1983, said Shipman. There would also be offices on the upstairs and down stairs. If voters approve attaching a new town office onto the safety complex, the offices would all be on one floor.

Town Administrative Assistant Karen Hatch, who has worked in the town office building for about 20 years, said the office is running out of storage space for files. Plus, the storage space that does exist is in awkward locations.

"You shouldn't have to walk though other people's offices to get to files," she said.

There's also not enough room to have all the town office employees to be working at the same time. For example, the tax collector has to call the office in advance to see if a computer is available. If not, she can't come in, said Hatch.

The committee also received estimates for the costs of maintaining current town office building until an alternate use can be found.

Last week, officials estimated the cost to be around $2,500 per year but that figure didn't include keeping the utilities on. When utilities are included that cost rises to $8,000 per year, according to a consultant. It would cost an additional $50,000 to fix safety issues with the furnace, an electrical problem, and to restore the historical character of the building, which would include creating a large meeting room inside and a cupola on the outside.

Police Department

Police Chief Josh Shackford said he'd be happy to move into a new building on Freedom Village Road, which he described as a central location in town. The current police station is wedged into the upper floor of the town office.

The new building would help the department in several ways. First, a new station would provide him with an area to book people who are arrested. Currently, officers have to drive all arrest suspects to other places like the Sheriff's Office in Ossipee. Second, a new police facility could provide the department with a sense of security and privacy, which is nonexistent at town office. For instance, Shackford recalled an incident where residents twice interrupted a burglar in mid confession by pounding on the door. One of the residents wanted to pay a parking ticket, he said.

A new station would give the police some much-needed privacy for conducting interviews and handling adult and juvenile suspects. For instance, there would be a reception area and interview rooms. Additionally, a new police station would allow the department space to store evidence more securely, said Shackford.

The town office building is uncomfortable temperature wise, said Shackford. The downstairs is very cold while the upstairs is stiflingly hot. Shackford said he and his officers need to keep the windows open even on a cold winter day but downstairs the office workers are shivering.

Officials say a problem with keeping the town office in place is it requires a lot of salt to clear the driveway, which is on a steep hill. Much of that salt washes into Cold River.

In other selectmen's news:

The board gave its blessing to resident Marshall Kendall to hold Freedom's first mile long yard sale to benefit various nonprofit agencies in town. The Yard sale is scheduled for Saturday, June 12 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. It will run the length of Elm Street and down Old Portland Road to Scarboro Road. The streets won't be closed to traffic but they will be closed to parking, according to Kendall. Anyone willing to sell items to benefit charity will be given a tax-deductible receipt. For more information call Kendall at 539-2963 or email to mklk@mac.com.

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