On Monday October 29th, Groton Town Meeting will review two citizens’ petitions protesting the Spring Town Meeting’s vote to approve the building of a new fire station on the field belonging to Lawrence Homestead Trust on Farmers Row. In light of last Monday’s reaction to the Lost Lake Sewer proposal, it is reasonable for residents to wonder why they should feel confident in the proposal to spend $8M on a new fire station, or the wisdom of using the beautiful field as its location.
I can tell you that the fire station initiative was done right. I am proud to have been a part of the (Central Fire Station Building) Committee that generated the station design and recommended the Farmers Row location. Everything about it was thought through and backed up with data, research, and logic. The Committee operated against the objective of building the right station at the right location and was guided by a mission of providing Town Meeting with the facts that they need to make a good decision.
The feedback that we received throughout the process affirmed our objective of keeping the public informed, and at Spring Town Meeting an 80% majority approved the use of the field as the site for the 18,550 square foot station. Unfortunately, one of the realities of any community of 11,000 is that it is impossible to recommend a site that will not have its detractors. Nor is it possible to assure that all citizens are informed. Indeed Articles 10 and 11 are both authored by a citizen that was unaware of the Town Meeting vote, and who objects to the use of the field as its location.
It is also impossible to argue against the fact that this is a beautiful and important piece of property. Indeed, most of the individuals on the Building Committee would have preferred to put the new building on Station avenue, and we worked very, very hard to find a way to do that. But to put the building that we need on Station Avenue simply would not work. The proximity to wetlands would have caused such modifications to the building that it could not function efficiently as a Fire Station. Without these modifications, we would have had to locate roughly 5% of the station footprint within the FEMA Flood Zone. The only real option was to build at the Prescott School. This would have cost an additional $940,000 in construction costs. It would mean giving up alternative uses of a repurposed school including the tax revenues and downtown economic activity that those uses would generate. Lastly forcing the station design into Prescott”s footprint would have compromised the operational efficiency of the Station, and would have meant emergency vehicles exiting from Station Avenue onto Main Street, creating a public safety issue that is to be avoided if practical.
More importantly, the property on Farmers Row is owned by a private entity that has proven their willingness to sell the property for development, and worked hard to maximize the value of the remaining three house lots. If we determine to build elsewhere in the name of preserving the field, we risk spending more and getting less, only to lose the field when it is sold for house lots at some point in the future. We could preserve this field by buying it, the cost of which is likely to be at least $1,000,000. The total incremental cost of building elsewhere in order to preserve the field would be well over $2,000,000 after factoring for the cost of revising architectural drawings and the delay in construction.
Much has been made of the size of the proposed station. Again I can tell you that I am confident that we have managed the size tightly. We have utilized industry experts who have no stake in the size of the outcome, and product management processes that are used in America”s largest companies to guide the prioritization and scoping of our building requirements.
We will provide these facts at Town Meeting. Please feel free to review the Center Fire Station Building Committee Final Report that was mailed to every household in Groton and presented at the Spring Town Meeting. On this web page, you can also find minutes of every meeting held by the Fire Station Building Committee, describing in a narrative fashion, exactly what happened in each of the its meetings.
I only ask that you work hard to educate yourself using the available materials, and that you keep an open mind as we go in to Town Meeting.
I would like to offer to spend time with any citizen who would like to discuss this issue between now and Town Meeting. Please feel free to call or to email me at home or to contact the Selectmen’s Office to get my contact information if you do not have it. The Selectmen’s Office can be reached at 978-448-1111 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you for your diligence,
Selectman, Town of Groton