|Williamstown Fire District Sets Dec. 7 Vote on New Station|
|By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires Staff|
04:48AM / Friday, September 30, 2022
|Voters will decide in December whether to authorize a borrowing to build a new fire station. The current estimate is just under $18 million.|
Updated Friday morning to correct a reference to the vote threshold at the district meeting needed to approve the station.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Five years after the fire district's voters approved
purchasing a Main Street parcel for a new station, the Prudential Committee is ready to ask those voters to take the next step.
On Wednesday, the committee voted 5-0 to set a special district meeting for Dec. 7 at 7 p.m. when voters will be asked to approve borrowing to pay for construction of a new station.
The Prudential Committee accepted the recommendation of its Building Committee that now is the time to finalize the project so that shovels can go in the ground as early as next summer.
"I think it's worth repeating every time that it's a complicated project, and there are a lot of difficult decisions to make," the Building Committee's Jim Kolesar told the elected Prudential Committee members. "The later the vote is, the more information you have, the more refined your design and financial projections can be.
"The longer you wait, the more expensive the project becomes."
Kolesar and Building Committee Chair Elaine Neely told the Prudential Committee that the building panel believes two months is enough time for a vigorous voter information effort in advance of the Dec. 7 meeting, where the question will be decided by a floor vote, where it would require a two-thirds vote for passage.
It remains uncertain how much borrowing authority the Prudential Committee will seek from voters.
The initial estimate
for building a 27,500 square foot station at the former Lehovec property on Main Street (Route 2) came in at just less than $18 million.
But the Building Committee hopes to refine that cost in the next few weeks. A big unknown for the architects who did the initial cost projection was the amount of site work that would be needed, and the missing piece of information was a geotechnical survey of the 3.7-acre site.
On Wednesday, Ken Romeo of owners' project manager Colliers Engineering and Design told the Prudential Committee that the geotech field work was done, and the consultant should have a report in "two and a half to three weeks" that will help the architects refine their cost estimate.
Another unknown is how much money aside from taxation the district can expect.
The Prudential Committee is aggressively seeking state and federal grant money to support construction, going so far as to hire a grant writer who, last year, helped the district successfully acquire a $400,000 state grant to pay for design work for the station.
And it is widely hoped that Williams College will contribute to the project. The college long has had a payment in lieu of taxes agreement with the district to provide annual support for the Fire Department, and, more recently, provided financial support when the town built a new police station on Simonds Road and gave a $5 million capital gift to Mount Greylock Regional School at the outset of the middle-high school addition/renovation project.
Kolesar, an emeritus vice president for public affairs at the college, told the Prudential Committee that Williams' board of trustees are scheduled to meet in October. The next scheduled meeting after that is in January, according to the school's website.
As for the voters, who will be asked to bear the bulk of the cost, district officials believe they have a compelling case that the aging, cramped and deficient station on Water Street needs to be replaced.
Neely said members of the Building Committee will be going to local civic groups to make the case for a new building, and the district is scheduling open houses at the current facility on Oct. 29 and Nov. 5 to show residents once again how inadequate it is for the district's needs.
"I think if you emphasize the health risks involved here, people will understand," Neely said. "As a health professional, I'm horrified by what we're subjecting volunteers to."
Officials say a new station would better and more safely serve the district's current staff of call-volunteer firefighters. The chief is the only full-time employee; the rest are compensated by stipend, mostly for hours at an incident.
A new station also, it is hoped, will attract new volunteers and, potentially, delay the time when the district might seriously need to look at additional full-time staffing in the face of national declines in volunteerism.
"If we're going to have this nice new modern facility, hopefully, it will help us attract volunteers, too," Prudential Committee Chair Dave Moresi said.