Tuftonboro holds hearing on $3.1 million public safety facility
|TUFTONBORO’S BUDGET COMMITTEE, led by Lloyd Wood, held a meeting in the Old Town House on Jan. 25 to ask questions of the Fire and Police Facilities Committee on the proposed $3.1 million warrant article for a combined police and fire facility. (Elissa Paquette photo) (click for larger version)|
February 03, 2011TUFTONBORO — After at least 11 years of discussion as to the best way to meet the infrastructure needs of Tuftonboro – and several study committees later – a new proposal is on the table for a combined fire and police department facility on the town-owned Gould property on Route 109A.
"There are as many opinions as there are people in this town," said Selectman Dan Duffy of the perennial issue. "We've put hours and hours of time into this project and considered the advice of professionals in the field. I'm proud of what we've come up with."
The latest committee, composed of the fire and police chiefs, Selectmen Carolyn Sundquist and Dan Duffy and Codes Officer Jack Parsons, presented its proposal, crafted following tours of facilities built for towns of similar size and the selection of an architect and construction manager. On Tuesday, Jan. 25, they met with the Budget Committee at the Old Town House to discuss their warrant article.
After touring throughout the state and gathering information from professionals in the field, the fire and safety facilities committee decided on a design for a combined 14,000 square foot facility. The price tag, $3.1 million, would ensure a "turnkey" project, meaning that when complete, both departments could move into it and function fully at once.
Questioning the cost
Budget Committee member Bob Theve asked how come the project comes to $228 per square foot when he estimates that Gilmanton built a fire and safety complex for $141 per square foot and New Hampton facility cost $154 per square foot.
Construction manager Andre Kloetz answered that the Tuftonboro figure was a total project cost, not just the cost of the building, and that Gilmanton saved space by having very few corridors, resulting in personnel having to go through offices or locker rooms to get from one place to another. The building cost went down, sacrificing functionality.
In his opinion, New Hampton's decision to use less expensive residential rather than durable construction grade materials was "short-sighted."
"Are we overbuilding?" asked Theve. Architect Gary Goudreau responded that fire and police departments "are not typical offices and have different needs."
"I visited Gilmanton," said Fire Chief Adam Thompson. "It doesn't have a sprinkler system; they shorted most of the building as far as electrical outlets go, the doorway system doesn't lock behind you. It's not a fire station. It was built to be a substation only."
He continued that any building that he has input in is "not going to have people come back to report problems…It's turnkey. It's a design to last, so we don't have to turn around and ask for more."
Sundquist explained that the committee hired an architect and a construction manager, which adds to the initial cost of the project, "but we intend to get a really good, quality building. We saw too many problems with buildings that were not done professionally that now have serious problems they have to try to fix. We want to use this building 20 years down the road."
Is the project affordable?
Budget committee member Tyler Phillips offered praise for the committee's "diligence and hard work," noted that the size had been reduced by 2,000 square feet from the first proposal, and said that the architect's rendering of the proposed facility was "beautiful," but expressed concern several times during the nearly three hour meeting about its affordability.
Sundquist responded that the price "is the most it would be," and represented "real numbers. We estimated on the high side to be sure to have enough… We wouldn't present what we can't afford. The Capital Improvements Committee informed us of what the town could bear every year and we stayed within those guidelines."
She estimated that when analyzed for its impact on residents, it comes out to a yearly town payment of around $300,000 at its highest point and would decrease each year over a 15-year period.
For individual property owners, that translates to 30 cents per $1,000 of assessed property valuation, increasing a property tax bill for an owner of a property valued at $100,000 by $30 in the first year, a property valued at $200,000 by $60 in the first year, and so on. That amount would go down in successive years.
Sundquist has been negotiating the terms of a 15-year letter of credit, the longest term offered in light of currently low interest rates, with the Meredith Village Savings Bank and expects to have specifics ready for the public hearing on financing scheduled for the public on Feb. 7 at 6 p.m. at the Old Town House.
Terry Smith, chairman of the Capital Improvements Program committee, which is responsible for overseeing the timing and feasibility of infrastructure needs, said that with the latest committee's study results now in hand, "It is most important to have something done, for it's now 11 – 12 years that we've been kicking this around." He, too, complimented the most recent committee saying, " I'm extremely impressed with the level of professionalism of the chiefs and the selectmen. It's a very difficult question."
In his opinion, the "tax hit" was manageable, and he urged the town to "get the show on the road. The police department is "in a sandwich box and the library is waiting to go."
Advantages of a combined station
Selectman Dan Duffy told those gathered that the selectmen had started out three years ago thinking that they would start first with a fire station and then move along to a police station and then a new library, but they've discovered that the difference between completing the proposed joint building and leaving the section dedicated to police business is around $400,000 (specific estimate is $377,000). He urged the town to "bite the bullet." Sundquist said, "They both need a new building, why not do it at once? Combining the two is the most cost effective."
Kloetz pointed out that there are fixed costs in any project. To combine the two departments in one building would mean: paying architectural and contracting costs one time instead of two; one parking lot instead of two; one generator; a shared secure entryway and receptionist; and one set of bathrooms.
What are the needs?
Thompson spoke of the need for fire department members to be able work on equipment inside the building rather than outside and to decontaminate from a fire scene in showers at the station rather than at home, for the department to be able to hold EMS training sessions on site (the state presently doesn't allow it), and for the town to lower its response time to Tuftonboro Corner and Canaan Valley residents. With the addition of a building at the Gould site, most of the town would be within a five-mile radius of a station.
Speaking to committee members, Phillips said, "You've made a solid case for the fire department," but asked, "Where is the urgency for the police station?"
Sundquist answered that the committee's investigation revealed that the "needs are great for both departments. Both are deficient." She noted that the fire department is "more popular, but when you go to other towns and see what a police station is supposed to be like, we don't have a police station."
The police department, currently serving the community from a 1300 square foot building, including the garage, has to handle arrests and bookings either in neighboring Wolfeboro, Moultonborough or at the county jail because it does have a secure entrance. That takes officers on duty out of town for stretches of time and they are not able to enter their reports until they return to the station.
Chief Andrew Shagoury, decrying the lack of privacy in the station's open space with a glass door facing the town offices, said that recently officers had to interview a sexual assault victim in view of people entering the lobby to the town offices. "That could be someone related to you," he said, " or maybe someone just had a bad day, or made a mistake."
At present, the department is not permitted by the Department of Child, Youth and their Families (DCYF) to handle juvenile cases because of its lack of audio and sight privacy. Tuftonboro depends on the availability of private space in neighboring towns' stations.
Electrical outlets are in short supply for the police as well as the firemen. With a combined building they could share a properly sized generator.
Phillips, who said that he did not like the "bundling" of the two building together, suggested looking at additional space for the police department in the second floor of the town hall.
Shagoury pointed out that aside from the fact that the stairway does not meet code and that an elevator for ADA accessibility would be expensive, there would be even less privacy than there is now.
Theve wondered about the cost of an addition to the present station, an idea discarded by the previous committee. One direction is limited by the cemetery; the other would involve using the land developed as a community garden. The department would have to be moved somewhere else during construction, which would add to the cost.
Budget committee member Wayne Black agreed that both stations were in need of space and that there would be savings from combining them. The alternative, building a separate police station, would be expensive.
Goudreau said that if the town was to use the library (presuming that voters would approve a new library), assuming it was 100 percent efficient for the functioning of a police station, that 600 square feet could be added to it and the old building would be brought up to new building standards, the cost might be around $800,000.
There was no mention of the building capacity of the lot. The existing plans for a new library show a building to be located behind the present library, as necessitated by wetlands.
Sundquist commented that she could envision the present library serving as a community center when and if vacated for a new library building.
Resident Bob McWhirter commented that at some point it becomes a matter of trust in the Capital Improvements Program (CIP) committee and the selectmen, and said, "The CIP Program plays an integral part in planning for the future. They [the selectmen] have come up with the best possible options and decisions. They've done a good job."
He added that questions from Budget Committee members "help put a clear picture forward," but said that in his opinion, "It is embarrassing that when firefighters come back from a call, they have to refit the truck outside and trucks from another town can't fit inside the station."
The selectmen have scheduled a public hearing at the Old Town House for Feb. 15 at 6 p.m. to discuss long-term financing of the proposed facility.