Questions And Answers About Sandwich's Public Safety Building
By: Enterprise Staff
Voters will be asked next week to support a Proposition 2 1/2 debt exclusion to build a joint public safety building on Quaker Meetinghouse Road in South Sandwich and a substation near the high school.
As now proposed, the project would cost an estimated $30 million.
The question will be presented to voters both at the second night of Town Meeting on Tuesday and at the polls on Thursday.
Proponents say the existing police and fire stations, including the substations in Forestdale and East Sandwich, are run-down, overcrowded, and do not meet many building safety codes. The police and fire headquarters on Route 6A are in a flood zone.
As the town has grown, the highest population areas have shifted. These buildings are no longer in the “population central” areas.
Opponents to the project have taken issue with building such a facility on Quaker Meetinghouse Road. They said the road is already congested with traffic at times during the day. Others complain about the project’s size. They say it’s just too big and includes too many “extras,” such as a workout room, a two-bay garage used to drop off or pick up prisoners, and a bathroom in the fire chief’s office. The biggest complaint is the cost. Many in town say it’s just too expensive.
This week, the Enterprise sat down with Town Manager Bud Dunham to give him one last chance to convince us that this is the right project, at the right time, for Sandwich.
Give me your best pitch for why Sandwich needs these new public safety buildings?
I’ll start with the fact that our current stations are too small. When the two headquarters buildings were built, the town had a population of 4,000 people. Now we’re over 20,000. We’re very close to build-out, so we know these new buildings will meet the town’s need for public safety space once and for all.
Also, the buildings we have now are in the wrong location. The two headquarters are on a flood zone.
As it stands, 27 percent now live so far away from the fire station that it would take paramedics more than eight minutes to reach them. That’s unacceptable. By building stations closer to the center of the population, we can reduce that percentage to just 1 percent.
These buildings are so old and outdated it’s embarrassing. After a call, if the paramedics have been contaminated with blood or something else like that, they have to walk through the middle of the fire station to reach the industrial washing machines that we have. That’s just one example of how insufficient these buildings are. Storage is also a problem. Every year we’re cited by the state for having inadequate storage for medications and some of our other lifesaving equipment. We also get cited each year for the poor conditions of the holding cells in the police station.
You talk an awful lot about reducing response times. What about response times to Town Neck and Sandwich Village? The new stations will be a lot farther away from those areas.
That’s true, but those neighborhoods will still all be within eight minutes. We’re looking at the town as a whole. And as a whole, response will be improved.
But still, some response times will increase. Do you have a number for the percentage of town that will see an increase?
No, we don’t.
Some have said that it’s a bad idea to build the new main station on a road as busy as Quaker Meetinghouse. How do you respond to that?
You want this station where the people live; where the businesses are. That’s where the calls will be coming from. [Selectman] Ralph Vitacco said it best. He was a police officer in Manhattan. He said why do you think they put police stations in the middle of Manhattan? Because that’s where they need them. They don’t put stations outside the city. They put them in the heart of the city.
Instead of spending all this money for a new station, can’t we renovate at least some of the existing stations to save some money? It seems like such a waste to just abandon these stations.
First of all, these existing stations are in the wrong locations, like I’ve said. Next, renovations would likely cost us more—we’ve estimated maybe $4 million and we’d still be tight on space and the two headquarters would still be in a flood zone. It doesn’t make sense.
Anyway, it would cost more to pay for all the extra personnel you’d need to provide coverage in all the stations—somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.2 million a year.
What’s going to happen to the old stations if they are vacated?
We would probably sell them.
How about renovating the Henry T. Wing School and turning that into a joint public safety building?
It’s in the wrong location.
How do you respond to someone who says they just can’t afford to pay more taxes?
That’s a tough one. If they really can’t afford it, they can’t afford it. How do you argue with that?
But I will say this, if we wait, it will cost us more. Our architect tells us that construction costs on projects like this increase 4 percent to 5 percent each year. Right now, if we borrowed $30 million over 25 years, it would cost the average homeowner about $13.96 a month. For less than $15 a month, you would be making a huge improvement in public safety services in this town.
Some have said this project is more about giving the police and fire departments a big fancy place to work than it is about improving public safety. How do you respond?
That’s not true. It is all about improving public safety. Part of that is giving the personnel the tools and space they need. This building has the right number of offices, training areas, bathrooms, holding cells and storage spaces to permanently address our public safety needs.
I’ll be honest, when we first started planning for this project, and we got our first cost estimate, I was surprised with how much it was. But we worked hard to bring that price down.
During the past few months, people have been picking apart the plans, saying we should get rid of this room, or that room. Making these reductions, honestly, doesn’t save a heck of a lot of money and anyway, it’s not the time to be doing that. We can make reductions once we have construction documents and specifications in hand. That’s when we can really see how reducing certain spaces will realistically impact the bottom line.
But we also have to be careful to not reduce the size so much that we suffer because of it. In Holden, which was one of the towns we visited that had just built a new public safety building, we were told not to design based on a dollar amount. Rather, design based on our needs. Holden based their design on money. They kept it small. Because of that, they had hallways and stairwells crowded with files and boxes. Now they’re having to spend money to renovate one of their old stations to use as storage. That’s unfortunate.
Give me three benefits that the average resident will realize from this new public safety building.
I can give you one big one. Some day, when it comes time to dial 911 in an emergency, someone will get to you faster than they would today. What we’re talking about here is improving our ability to respond to emergencies.
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