Plans For Public Safety Building In Sandwich Are Not Dead, Group Says

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By: Mary Stanley
Published: 05/24/13

Holding up a political sign urging voters to approve a $30 million joint public safety building, chairman of the board of selectman James W. Pierce said, “I paid for these signs and we’re going to keep using them until we get it right.”

That is how Mr. Pierce began last night’s workshop to discuss what went wrong in this year’s campaign to build a new police and fire station.

Members of the original building committee attended the workshop.

There was consensus among the group that voters agreed with the need for a new police and fire station but questioned the price, the location of the buildings and whether all parts of the town will be adequately served if the fire and police headquarters are in South Sandwich with a substation located further down Quaker Meetinghouse Road in front of the high school.

John J. Juros, a member of the Capital Improvement Planning Committee, said that people living in the village and Town Neck areas expressed concern about response times to their neighborhoods would be longer.

“Whatever we do next, you can’t take coverage away from the village,” Mr. Pierce agreed.

Member of the public also attended last night’s workshop. Among them, Peter J. Hanlon of Jones Lane who said even with the substation at the high school there would be a void in coverage for people living in East Sandwich.

“If you want the votes from the East Sandwich part of town, you have to man the East Sandwich fire station,” he said.

Town Manager George H. Dunham said that it would be far more expensive to renovate the East Sandwich Fire Station to bring it up to code. He said it would be less expensive to build something entirely new.

Discussion then turned to a proposal to have three fire stations as opposed to just two. Mr. Dunham explained that opening a third substation would require an override to pay for recurring personnel costs to man the station. And that would cost an additional $1.05 million annually.

He said, however, that opening a third station may be unavoidable.

“If the call volume continues to increase, we are going to have to hire more people, whether we have a new building or not. We are quickly getting to the point where we are going to have to consider more personnel,” he said.

Building Committee member John D. Vibberts disagreed with the idea of three stations.

“If you thought the $30 million proposal was too expensive, a third station is going to cost even more. Three stations is cost prohibitive,” he said.

Selectman Ralph A. Vitacco said that the plan brought to Town Meeting this month was the most economical of all of the options that the building committee considered. He said the debt exclusion to build the joint public safety building did not add personnel. To cover the recurring costs of hiring new firefighters and police would require an override, which adds to residents taxes not just for 25 years, but permanently.

The committee also discussed the estimated cost of the headquarters.

Mark W. Wisentaner of Chipman Road questioned whether the town could enter into a public/private partnership to build a new facility. Under such a scenario, a private contractor would build the safety facility and the town would then buy or lease the building.

“It is illegal to do that,” Assistant Town Manager Douglas A. Lapp said. He explained that for the town to lease a public facility, such as a police and fire station, from a private business for the purposes of avoiding the public bidding process and the prevailing wage law is against the law in Massachusetts.

After 90 minutes of discussion, Mr. Pierce ended the workshop saying that the board of selectmen will discuss adding members to the building committee and scheduling future workshops on the issue.

“The problem has not been solved; it didn’t go away. We need to keep this committee in existence,” he said.


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