BRATTLEBORO - After almost three decades of trying to figure out what to do with the town's aging police and fire facilities, the Selectboard is close to approving a project.
Selectboard Chairman Dick DeGray said he expects the board to vote on a final plan at a special meeting scheduled for this Tuesday, Sept. 11. The board is set to meet at 5 p.m. in the Selectboard Meeting Room to get the latest update on the plans that have been put together by Black River Design.
And after meeting with the architects and shaving as much off the original design as town officials are comfortable with, DeGray said the board will probably vote on a final plan which will then go before town meeting representatives for final approval.
"There have been some changes since the last public meeting, and I think we are ready to move forward with this," DeGray said Friday, adding that he and Selectboard member David Gartenstein have met with the architects to reduce the scope of the project as much as possible. "We have looked this over line by line and I think it is as low as we are going to get it. It's time to bring it before the town meeting reps."
Brattleboro officials have been investigating their options for almost 30 years, and at one point they were considering finding a piece of land to build new police and fire stations.
Earlier this year the board committed itself to renovating the existing stations, and in June Black River Design
Town staff got that estimate down to about $14.6 million after making some cuts and the most recent project stands at about $14.3 million after DeGray and Gartenstein went through the proposal over the past few weeks.
One of the major changes that has been made, DeGray said, is moving the emergency operations center from the West Brattleboro station, which was in the original design, to Central Station on Elliot Street.
If the EOC was at West Brattleboro that station would have needed extra space, but by keeping it at Central Station the town was able to save some money by utilizing the community room for when an EOC is needed.
DeGray said that decision was also made because of the flooding that West Brattleboro has experienced and he said some town officials thought it made more sense to keep the EOC in town so staff could get there when needed.
At the Selectboard meeting last week the board members began talking about instituting a 1 percent local option tax to help pay for the police fire project.
DeGray said he was not sure if town meeting representatives would consider the new tax at the same special meeting in the fall or if that decision would be put off until the regular Representative Town Meeting in March.
"I know not everybody is going to support the tax but you have to look at the larger picture," DeGray said. "There could be significant savings for the taxpayers if we implement the 1 percent tax. No one denies that this project has to happen and the question we have to answer is ‘How are we going to pay for it?'"
DeGray said if the board moves ahead with its decision this week then the town will schedule public information meetings to bring the town meeting representatives up to speed on the project.
He said there could be a final vote on the project as early as late October.
The board and town have been walking a fine line between working to keep costs down and making sure the departments get everything they expect out of this project, said DeGray, who considers himself a budget hawk and never spends a dime when a nickel will do.
But after 30 years of study he said it is time for the town to move ahead and the first step could happen this Tuesday.
"These are big projects and we know they are not inexpensive but we have to get them done," DeGray said. "We can't keep putting this off. At some point you have to face reality and decide it is time to do it."
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 802-254-2311 ext. 279.