October 10, 2011
Article 26 on the warrant for the October 17th Fall Town Meeting is asking voters to reconsider the purchase of the church site at 279 Main Street for a new center fire station. When last before Town Meeting in June, a strong message was sent by townspeople that they wanted further information about the suitability of the surplus land on Station Ave. that GELD was offering as a potential site for the station. It was hoped by many that a savings in costs would be realized by coordinating the construction of GELD”s new facility with the new center fire station. Together, the Town and GELD funded a site engineering study by Places Associates which confirmed some of this issues which had been raised by the site selection committee in their report to Town Meeting. The letter summarizing this report can be accessed on the Town”s website, but essentially concludes that the site development costs to address the site”s proximity to wetlands and the need for significant storm water management systems would drive the total project budget to an unacceptable level. It is also noted in the report that
(raising the site) with 3â€“3Â½ feet of fill would be required to accommodate drainage on the site. This would elevate the structure in a manner that would be problematic for large fire trucks. It also became apparent as a result of this study that project costs associated with GELD”s new facility would also increase if a common wall were to be used to narrow the footprint of both structures on the Station Avenue site.
In making their recommendation to Town Meeting last June, the site selection committee reviewed numerous sites based on criteria that considered many factors, but gave great weight to response time. This obviously narrowed the search to the town center and in fact one of the goals of the Selectmen, since the Groton Fire Department study by Ammondson Associates in 2002 and related Station Ave. master planning, has been to identify a suitable site in the town center for a new center fire station. The Prescott School site was ranked by the site selection committee a distant third due to numerous factors including site development costs to a site/structure located in the historic district, incompatibility with future projected uses for Prescott as advanced by the Prescott reuse committee and access issues due to the location of the station in the rear. With the additional engineering study of the GELD site and the shortcomings of using Prescott, it is clear why the site selection committee recommended the church site at 279 Main Street as the preferred location for the new center fire station.
A fundamental function of local government needs to be ensuring the public safety of its residents. Chief among these is the adequacy of the emergency services that are available to respond when called upon. It should be obvious to all by now that the present fire station on Station Ave., that was converted to use as a fire station in 1940, is woefully inadequate to meet that need. In addition the current response model of having fire equipment and ambulances dispatched from separate locations is a barrier to the prompt response times that townspeople have a right to expect. It is also a disservice to our firefighters and EMT”s, the majority of whom are volunteers, and are hampered in their ability to respond by that current configuration. The search for an adequate site for a new center fire station has gone on for some time, and it is unclear when another site may become available if Article 26 is defeated. Based on a conceptual site plan prepared by Ducharme & Dillis as well as site layouts prepared by Val Prest who was the civil engineer on the site selection committee, the church site at 279 Main Street will meet the need of our emergency responders both now and into the future and deserves support at Town Meeting.