BRATTLEBORO -- The town of Brattleboro has been debating its emergency facilities for more than 30 years and studies about the future of the town's police and fire stations have resulted in numerous plans through the years.
Since the special Representative Town Meeting vote of October 2012 the town has been finalizing plans for the $14.1 million project that will completely upgrade and renovate the police station in the municipal building as well as the town's two fire stations. Now the town is ready to show those plans to the public.
On Thursday, Feb. 27, at 5:30 p.m. in the Selectboard meeting room, members of the Police-Fire Facilities Building Committee will talk about the project and show the latest designs on the building.
"The town of Brattleboro has been working for quite some time now on new plans for our police station, central fire station, and the West Brattleboro Fire Station," Interim Town Manager Patrick Moreland said. "Our project oversight committee is now at a place where it's time for us to take a look at these plans and decide if we are heading in the right direction. It's time for us to say 'Are we on the right track, or not?'"
The Selectboard appointed the citizen members of the Police-Fire Facilities Building Committee to work with department heads, and with project manager Steve Horton, to provide financial and technical oversight
Moreland said the committee has been working for almost a year to ensure that the buildings meet the needs of the police and fire departments, while trying to shave off costs wherever possible.
"This committee was asked to work with the staff, and work with our hired professionals to help develop the best plans and to try to find cost saving opportunities where available," Moreland said. "I think they've done a great job in doing that."
At Thursday night's meeting Horton said the public will be able to see detailed floor plans and the architect's drawings that have not been available until very recently.
When the project was first pitched to town meeting representatives there were conceptual designs of the three facilities provided.
Horton said the committee now has the most detailed plans yet.
The public meeting Thursday is an important opportunity to give the public a chance to weigh in on the plans before putting them before the Selectboard at its March 4 meeting.
"We are moving rapidly forward with the plans and the process and part of our charge has been to communicate as effectively as possible, and as continually as possible, with the public," said Horton. "And this meeting is another effort to do that to make sure that the public is made aware of the projects and the process that we're undertaking. We now have enough information and details that we can provide that visualization so people can have an opinion or not on whether they care for it or don't care for it."
Horton said the committee has made a number of significant changes since the 2012 vote approved the project.
Contrary to the original plan, the town is going to tear down the West Brattleboro fire station and build a new structure, a move that is expected to save hundreds of thousands of dollars.
And the committee also decided to not dig a new basement for the police station, which is also going to save the town about $200,000 in the end.
That move extended the police facility into the parking lot and the municipal center will have a new parking area and traffic flow which will be discussed Thursday.
"We're have been trying to find, and whittle savings, everywhere we can," said committee Chairwoman Robin Sweetapple. "These are the final plans. The town is asking the committee to approve these plans and we are at the final stages. That is why we want to hear form the public before we go to the Selectboard to ask them to approve these plans."
Fire Chief Mike Bucossi said the committee process has been helpful and constructive, and the renovated buildings will serve the town well into the future.
"For the year-and-a-half before the project got off the ground, we all spoke to the unsafe conditions, and the unhealthy conditions, in all of the buildings," Bucossi said. "We can show the public at this point that it's all been addressed, and we can show them what we're taking forward at this point."
If the Selectboard approves the plans on March 4 Horton expects construction to begin in June.
The renovations to the police station and municipal building is expected to take 15 months, while work at the Elliot Street fire station will take about a year. It will take about six months to tear down the old fire station in West Brattleboro and build a new one.
Horton said it will take some detailed planning to make sure all of the emergency services are available during the project.
"Working around emergency services has a life of its own," Horton said. "The undeniable truth is that they have to continue to operate in full capacity throughout the project. That's a known quantity."
"We are going to have to be constantly changing and adjusting to make this work, but we know it will be worthwhile in the end," said Police Chief Gene Wrinn. " These are life and safety issues that need to be dealt with. These are issues that cause grave concern for employees and people we deal with every day."
"This public meeting is about transparency," Horton said. "We're not trying to push anything through. We're trying to be sure that people are aware of all of the effort that has been made to make sure we get it right. We want people to know that."
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 279, or email@example.com. Follow Howard on Twitter @HowardReformer.