Voters to decide on $30K station repairs

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BELLOWS FALLS — If Bellows Falls voters agree, the Bellows Falls fire and police station will get $30,000 worth of repairs later this year.

Voters will decide the issue at the annual Bellows Falls village meeting Monday night at the Bellows Falls Opera House in a special article. Bellows Falls Fire Chief Shaun McGinnis has proposed the repairs, which he said would mark the beginning of needed work on the 35-year-old fire and police station.

McGinnis told the village trustees Tuesday night that his recommendation, if the money is approved, would be to tear down the current chimney, which is starting to lean away from the building, and install a new heating system.

McGinnis said he would recommend buying a propane-fired boiler, rather than replacing the current oil-fired boiler. McGinnis said propane was less expensive than fuel oil, and the price is projected to remain relatively low for many years. Trustee James McAuliffe questioned McGinnis' estimates, since he also said the propane boiler would have to be replaced every 10 years. McAuliffe said heating costs weren't just fuel costs but also the capital costs to pay for the equipment.

In a followup interview, McGinnis said probate boilers do wear out quicker than oil furnaces, but they burn cleaner and the overall savings would still be there. He said the money would also be used to dig up and replace the underground fuel tanks, and he recommended the new propane tanks be buried as well.

McGinnis said the fire and police station, which was built in 1984, needs about $100,000 in repairs, and the building would be much more valuable to the community with some renovations. "There's a lot of wasted space," he said. "The building needs to be updated."

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McGinnis said future projects would include moving parking away from the back of the building because of snow coming off the roof. The building originally had a shingle roof, but the standing seam roof, installed a couple of years ago, has created a snow hazard.

McGinnis hopes to eventually redesign the lobby of the building, and move the police dispatcher into the space, which he said was underutilized. "That's a long term goal," he said.

Another long-term issue is what to do about the elevator, which has been shut down for several years, and was believed to be a freight elevator primarily. With an elevator, the building would become more compliant with federal disabilities access law, and could be used for training and meetings.

McGinnis said there are already plans and money to pay for a reconfiguration of the green space and front walkway in front of the police and fire station. He said much of the pavement and cracked concrete will be removed and a different entrance walkway will be installed. "We're going to rip this out," he said on Wednesday, pointing to the cracked and deteriorated concrete walkway in front of the station.

The fire chief said he thought the cinderblock chimney was part of the original structure, but he said it was starting to pull away from the brick building. The building needed the chimney because it was heated with a wood-fired boiler. It also had a wood pellet-fired boiler. "The chimney and the tanks have to come out," McGinnis said.

He said members of the fire department will help with any construction project at the station, and he estimated that the total cost of the chimney removal and new heating system would be $35,000. "To me, this is all about efficiency," he said.

Contact Susan Smallheer at ssmallheer@reformer.com or at 802 254-2311, ext. 154.


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