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Steady progress on Plymouth Public Safety Building proposal

January 04, 2011
PLYMOUTH—After eight months of data gathering, analysis and public feedback, members of the Plymouth Public Safety Building Committee presented their findings to the Board of selectmen on Monday night.

The informational hearing was rescheduled from the previous week's regular board meeting, which was canceled on account of snow.

Public Safety Building Committee Chairman Tim Keefe gave a PowerPoint presentation summarizing the results of the committee's labors over the course of the last year. Noting that a proposal for a new, combined police and fire department facility to be built on town-owned land at the site of the existing police facility narrowly failed to pass muster with voters at last March's annual Town Meeting, Keefe said the committee went back to the drawing board to examine every possible option that might be available for the town to consider in 2011. He said there were as many as 30 to 35 potential sites in town that had been evaluated during the course of the committee's deliberations.

"We wanted to be sure that we left no stone unturned," said Keefe.

After introducing committee members Peter Bolton, Art Cote, Mary Crowley (co-chair), John Kelly, Dick Piper and select board representatives Ray Gosney and Wallace "Butch" Cushing, Keefe went on to review the process the team took in coming to its conclusions, and then presented its recommendations to the board.

Anyone interested in the details of the committee meetings is welcome to visit the town Web site. There, they will find an online archive of all the meetings, as well as two virtual video tours, one of the existing Police Department and another of the existing Fire Department, documenting the clear need for new facilities.

In addition, a binder full of all the hard copies of committee minutes and auxiliary documents is available for public inspection at the Town Hall.

In summary, the committee has presented the select board with four feasible options on two possible sites.

The two sites under consideration are the site of the present Fire/Rescue building at 42 Highland St. and the existing Police Department site, with the addition of an adjoining parcel of land, designated Lot 209, next to the existing P.D., which would be purchased by the town for an estimated price of about $90,000. The virtue of purchasing this parcel would be that it opens up a level area that could be developed for either a standalone Fire Department or Police Department or a combined facility, without the town having to incur the substantial costs of excavation that would be required to develop the existing P.D. site, as envisioned in last year's proposal.

Depending on the course of events, Keefe said that one or both of the lots hosting the existing Police Department or Fire Department could potentially be sold to further recoup construction costs, depending on what path is chosen for the new facility.

While cost estimates and architectural drawings have not yet been undertaken for the new proposals, it is expected that new options would cut the price tag from last year's proposal by a very substantial margin, as much as $1 million in excavation costs.

"Finding the least costly solution that fits with the program and design requirements that have been established is very important to us," commented Keefe.

"We do know that costs of construction will be less this year, in any event, because of the economy," said Keefe. "In terms of having an opportune moment to do this project, I don't think we are going to find a better time. Building costs are about as low as they could go."

One option is to build either one or both of the new police and fire department buildings on the new site. Another option would be to build a two-story standalone Fire/Rescue facility at the present site at 42 Highland St. by adding a second story to the present structure. There are pros and cons to each of these options, which are still being fleshed out in committee discussions.

In short, the Highland Street station has the distinct advantage of being located in the center of activity for the very busy Fire/EMS service. A scatter diagram prepared by Fire Chief Casino Clogston and presented at the meeting clearly shows the bulk of Fire/EMS activity in the downtown and Speare Memorial Hospital environs.

A move out North Main Street to the site near the existing P.D. would potentially lengthen response times to some locations, while improving response times to others. There are many other factors to take into consideration, as well. Given expansion limitations at the tiny plot at 42 Highland St., a plan to expand the existing Fire Department facility by adding a second story could not be wholly successful in meeting all the program requirements that have been established for a new facility.

Select board Chairperson Valerie Scarborough said that the board would take up the subject at work sessions in the near future, and would determine a timeline and process for how to proceed on the project as deliberations continue at the select board level. Board members thanked Public Safety Committee members on all the hard work they have done to bring the proposal this far. They especially took the opportunity to thank Keefe for his excellent summary presentation of the proceedings to this point.

While Keefe said that committee members feel that it is time for them to back out of the process and let the select board make the major decisions on the project as progress continues, Scarborough said she was certain that there would continue to be an important role for he Public Safety Building Committee in the months leading up to March Town Meeting.

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