Running out of options for Brattleboro's police-fire project
BRATTLEBORO -- Brattleboro's decades-old drive to build new stations for its police and fire departments still has no end in sight.
Town officials who have been working on the option of building a combined police and fire facility at the site of Central Station on Elliot Street now say it is unlikely that site will work.
After voters rejected a proposed fiscal year 2015 budget, which included payments on a proposed $14.1 million police-fire project, the Selectboard put the project on hold and directed the project manager to investigate the feasibility of building on Elliot Street.
The Elliot Street project was expected to save the town a few million dollars.
Now interim Town Manager Patrick Moreland said they are about ready to turn their attention toward an alternative plan after exhausting every other option at the Elliot Street site.
"We've looked at this option six ways to Sunday and we have not come up with any real stand out solutions," Moreland said. "It's just not as easy as it looks. There is no clear course of action for combining both facilities on Elliot Street."
A small committee made up of Moreland, the police and fire chiefs, and the project manager and architect, has been meeting regularly to come with a plan to build a new combined police and fire station at the site of Central Fire Station on Elliot Street.
They have looked at plans that include building out the fire station as originally proposed and adding a police station, building an all-new combined facility, and trying to share common spaces such as lobbies, lockers and dispatch.
But with each option there have been severe limitations, including very tight parking and traffic flow.
Now, after looking at four different ideas, Moreland said they are about ready to call the Police-Fire Facility Building Committee back together again to figure out how the town should proceed forward.
The committee has not met since May 13, after the budget rejection put the project on hold.
And meanwhile, even though the shovels are no closer to being ceremoniously plunged into the dirt, the project costs are rising.
The project manager and architect are being paid for their work and the costs have exceeded $900,000 at this point, Moreland said.
"The chiefs have spent a lot of time looking at this site, but right now it seems clear that a plan for a combined facility is not immediately at hand," Moreland said. "We need to start engaging the committee and the board on how they would like to see this move forward."
Moreland said that whatever plan they come up with will have to go before town meeting representatives for approval.
Brattleboro Fire Chief Mike Bucossi said after the original project was scrapped the police and fire departments wanted to make every effort to consider the Elliot Street site.
The committee is meeting Wednesday to look at the most recent plans, but with every option there have been serious challenges to overcome.
"We are trying to answer all of the questions the public and the committee and the Selectboard have," Bucossi said. "Everybody has been great, and we've worked hard to try to have this come to fruition but so far it has been difficult. The site is very tight."
Bucossi also said planners have to consider responding to a large emergency event, and any plan has to place the public safety first.
And while Bucossi said it has been worthwhile to look into building on the Elliot Street site, it is also frustrating and disappointing to still be no closer toward addressing the health and work safety issues at the police and fire stations that have been driving the project from the start.
"With every option we spend more money that could be going toward construction costs and at some point you have to say ‘Enough is enough,' and start looking in another direction," said Bucossi. "I'm glad the project still has forward momentum, and has not been shelved, but it feels like we are right back at the beginning, doing a feasibility study. It feels like we are a long way off from breaking ground."
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 279.
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