The third try was the charm for Groton’s new Central Fire Station, when Spring Town Meeting passed an article to buy a 2.7 acre lot on Farmer’s Row (S.R. 225 and 111) for construction of a planned 18,500 square foot station. Two earlier purchase attempts for a different site, the Sacred Heart Church site at 279 Main Street, were defeated at town meetings in 2011. The current Article 12 passed by a 170-44 margin, well above the required 2/3 majority, although more than 100 voter left the meeting before the vote was taken about 11:25 p.m. Monday night.
Jack Petropoulos, Chairman of the ad hoc Center Fire Station Building Committee that researched three sites before unanimously recommending the Farmer’s Row location to the Board of Selectmen, was pleased with the vote. He wrote in an email: “I have to tell you that I am still decompressing from 10 weeks worth of work… I understand that the tally last night put the vote at roughly 80% in favor. While we set a bar at 90% (approval), the purpose of that bar was to hold us to a standard, and to make sure that we looked at every issue from every angle. We weren’t looking to win a town vote, we were looking to win a town’s approval. When I see the outcome expressed last night, it seems to me that we achieved that goal.”
The committee took a different approach than town officials used in 2011, hiring professional consultants and trying to anticipate and answer a broad range of questions similar to those that tripped up the the 2011 proposals. In addition to holding public meetings two and sometimes three times a week, the committee made a point of posting progress reports on the town web site and distributing them to local media. Over the last several weeks, the committee held two public hearings and three “walk-throughs” of the Ayer central fire station, which is roughly comparable to the proposed Groton facility. It concluded its public information effort by mailing its recommendation and background information to all households in town last week. Both the BoS and the Planning Board endorsed the location and purchase.
The fire station site is on the southern edge of the tract, approaching Long Hill Road, and is part of an 11-acre hayfield owned by the Lawrence Homestead Trust and leased by Excalibur Farms. The purchase price is $350,000. As part of the deal, the town will extend town sewer to the site to serve the fire station and to provide hookups for three building lots between the town’s nearby Public Safety Building and the fire station lot. Representatives of the Lawrence Homestead Trust appeared before the Planning Board last Thursday to present an “Approval Not Required” plan for the lots, outlining how the property may be subdivided.
Preliminary estimates of the cost of the 8-bay fire station approach $8 million. The proposed station is about two thousand square feet larger than the one in the 2011 proposal because the Farmer’s Row lot is more than an acre larger and can accommodate a broader range of training and operational programs, committee members said.
A second town meeting article, to hire an architect and develop working plans for the station, was put off until the Town Meeting resumes on May 7. The Center Fire Station Building Committee is expected to supervise and facilitate design and construction decisions and operations until the facility is opened.