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Plymouth selectmen unveil plans for new police, fire stations

January 25, 2011
PLYMOUTH — Residents of Plymouth were given their first look at conceptual plans for new police and fire stations during a public hearing at Monday night's meeting of the board of selectmen.

Board Chair Valerie Scarborough explained at the outset of Monday's hearing that after reviewing the recommendations of Plymouth's Public Safety Building Committee (which presented its findings to the selectmen earlier this month), she and her colleagues decided to have the architectural firms of Bonnette, Page & Stone (BPS) and DGA design plans for a new fire station that would replace the existing station on Highland Street and a new police station to be constructed on a site adjacent to the existing police department on Route 3.

Kelly Davis of BPS began his presentation with a look at the proposed police department, where a lobby and reception area, administrative offices, support areas for officers, evidence storage, four vehicle bays, a sally port, and holding cells would be housed within a new one-story, 10,000-square-foot building constructed of half concrete block and half stud wall, with cement siding.

BPS' plans for the fire department called for the existing station on Highland Street to be completely demolished and replaced with a new two-story, 17,000-square-foot facility (roughly three times the size of the existing station) that would provide more space for vehicles and equipment on the ground floor while housing new administrative offices, bunk rooms, a duty room, a kitchen, and a physical fitness room on the second floor.

According to Davis, the proposed station would be constructed of cement block and brick and would be flat-roofed, creating an energy efficient envelope that would cut down on operating costs over the building's 50-to-75-year lifespan.

Asked why BPS had opted for a complete demolition of the existing fire department, Davis explained that they felt it would be easier to ensure energy efficiency by starting from scratch, rather than trying to salvage the original 43-year-old building.

Asked what the expected timeline would be for construction of the new fire station, Davis replied that the project should take 10 to 12 months, and would entail a temporary re-location of the fire department to another facility, perhaps the Department of Public Works or the old police station (if the new one were built first).

Keith McBey, Vice President of BPS, explained that when calculating cost estimates for both projects, his firm's chief concern was reducing their impact on the town's budget as much as possible.

While concrete figures are still being worked out, he said, the preliminary estimates represent a "pretty significant savings" when compared to the estimates put before voters last year.

To undertake both projects, McBey said, would cost roughly $6.5 million, a considerable reduction from the $7.3 million proposal presented at last year's Town Meeting.

Asked to provide figures for the either the police or fire departments alone, McBey said the fire station would cost roughly $3,650,000, and the police station $2.8 million.

Doing both at the same time, he added, would, however, present advantages in terms of attracting lower bids from contractors and offering more options for re-locating the fire department.

The foremost concern on the minds of those who attended Monday night's hearing was the impact the proposal might have on local taxpayers.

Bill Houle suggested that given the current economic climate, the town simply cannot afford to move forward with two large-scale building projects. The increase in the town's tax rate this year has been hard enough for many property owners to absorb, he said, and they "can't stand anymore of that kind of tax shock."

Houle said that after speaking with the town's police chief and learning that the existing police station should be able to sustain Plymouth's needs for at least the next five years, it was his opinion that the fire department should have been the select board's priority this year.

Scarborough replied that the selectmen had discussed the options presented to them by the Public Safety Building Committee extensively, and had decided, in a unanimous vote, that the best choice would be to bring both projects before voters at Town Meeting.

Asked by Scarborough to state her thoughts on the wisdom of pursuing both projects in the midst of an economic downturn (which Scarborough felt were "far more eloquent" than any argument she could have made), Building Committee member Mary Crowley said that while she understood the concerns of taxpayers, the town might never find another opportunity to build so inexpensively.

"Money is cheap right now trade is cheap right now," Crowley said, adding that the existing police and fire stations are in "dreadful" condition, and that she would hate to see the town continue "throwing money into an old machine" out of fear over its finances.

Houle and several other audience members suggested that the selectmen approach Plymouth State University and request an increase in the university's capital contributions as a way to offset the impact of the building projects. Houle himself went as far as to suggest that in view of the increasing burden it is placing on the fire department and other town services, the university should be paying 50 percent of the bill.

Scarborough was quick to point out, however, that while the university should be contributing to capital improvements that it will benefit from, local businesses and restaurants also benefit a great deal from the patronage of students and faculty at PSU.

Asked by an audience member what effect both projects would have on Plymouth's tax rate should they pass at Town Meeting, Town Administrator Paul Freitas replied that the total tax impact of the $6.5 million proposal over a 20-year bond would be $1.43.

The total increase on a home valued at $200,000 (Plymouth's median assessment) would be $320, he added.

A second public hearing on the police and fire station plans has been scheduled for Monday, Feb. 7 at 5 p.m. at Town Hall.

Voters will have the final say on the proposal at Town Meeting in March.

Martin Lord Osman
Salmon Press
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