WILMINGTON — Nearly 10 years after Tropical Storm Irene wreaked havoc downtown and called attention to the need to relocate emergency services away from the floodplain, construction of a new public safety facility is underway at town-owned land at 40 Beaver St.
At a groundbreaking ceremony Wednesday, Wilmington Police Chief Matt Murano thanked the taxpayers and the players involved in the project.
“They say if you want to build something solid, you need a strong foundation,” he said. “I think this building’s foundation may not be the concrete and form but really comes from the community. The overwhelming support for this is amazing. And it really moves us into the 21st century with what we can provide for public safety services to our community and we are very grateful.”
Town Manager Scott Tucker said the project is in the town plan, which the Planning Commission presented then the Select Board adopted. He noted the 2011 storm killed Ivana Taseva.
Ann Manwaring, former Select Board member and state representative, called for the project to be included under town goals in 2018 and to reappoint a committee to explore ways to get it done. She thanked voters for their support and understood the relocation of the two departments out of the floodplain was in their interest.
“We really need to prepare ourselves for the next millennium,” Select Board Chairman Tom Fitzgerald said. “Again, we thank the voters tremendously for this.”
In a 290-184 vote via Australian ballot for annual Town Meeting in March, residents approved taking out a $5.5 million bond to finance the project.
Fire Chief Scott Moore credited Manwaring with “getting the ball rolling” again and thanked the town’s Public Safety Facility Committee for its dedication. He called NBF Architects of Rutland “fantastic to work with.”
“I think the building is going to be unbelievable when we get done,” he said. “We’re going to have a more efficient and safer facility.”
Moore said with the constant addition of services provided by the fire department comes more equipment and the new facility will allow more room. Manwaring roughly estimated about $3 million worth of equipment is currently stored at the fire station and about $250,000 worth of equipment is housed at the police station.
Committee Chairman Chuck Clerici said he wasn’t sure he would ever see the project begin. He was involved with the committee in 2015 and then again in 2019.
The project was personal for him.
“My ex-wife and daughter, who was about 20 months old, were caught in the flood and they were stranded in that building over there for about 12 hours,” he said, pointing to the former Twin Valley High School which now is the Old School Community Center next to the site of the facility. “I was kind of helpless on the other side of town.”
At the time, Clerici noticed the town’s first responders were in a similar position. They were “displaced from their facilities, lost a lot of equipment,” he said.
“In the aftermath, we all realized that river is not going anywhere,” he said. “This has happened before. It happened again in 2011. It’s bound to happen again.”
Clerici recalled the town not being quite ready for the project in 2015, when the committee first formed. He thanked fellow committee members, the two chiefs, the Select Board, Tucker, Town Finance Officer Christine Richter, taxpayers who supported initial design work at annual Town Meeting last year then the bond this year and NBF.
Bread Loaf Corporation of Middlebury was hired for construction.
“You guys have fantastic experience with these types of projects,” Clerici said to the group. “We wish you the best of luck.”
His hope is to have a ribbon-cutting ceremony at about the same time next year.
“To steal a little zinger from the contractors, they always said, ‘The road to success is always under construction,’” Fitzgerald said. “And that’s where we are and that’s where we’re going to go.”
The location is a win-win for Manwaring as it’s already owned by the town and in the downtown village.