WESTBOROUGH, Mass. -- Before the town can even contemplate breaking ground on a new fire station, funding for the proposed building will have to be approved by voters -- again. Residents at Town Meeting on March 17 approved borrowing funds to replace the 1888 station, but the matter needs to go to a ballot to meet Massachusetts tax law.
Unlike Town Meeting, residents in the voting booth won't be shown a presentation as to why a new fire station is needed, said George Barrette, selectman and member of the Municipal Building Committee. Officials will have to find other ways of educating voters if they want the fire station to pass again.
"The next couple of months are going to be a sprint," he said.
A lot of time and money has already been spent on repairs, expansions, and renovations said Fire Capt. Calvin Lawrence, who is also a member of building committee. Selectmen five years ago rejected a plan that incorporated the Police and Fire departments because of its $35 million cost. That was after $1.8 million in planning and bid documents had been spent.
The latest plans for a station that would house just the fire department has a larger footprint, but is estimated to cost $11 million. The lower figure is, in part, because the planned station has only a single story, so there is no need for elevators or stairwells.
Lawrence said he is hopeful that the structure can be completed for less than $11 million, but couldn't commit to an exact figure. "Contractors are hungry," he said.
In the station's recent history, he said, the structure has been through a series of short-term repairs. Yet the building no longer meets code for an essential building, that is a building that can withstand earthquakes and other natural disasters.
The station, which sits at 42 Milk Street in the downtown area, has been through two major renovations. Two bays were added in 1976 and another addition was built in 1989. "Everything is like a deck of cards," Lawrence said.
The resulting building is a jigsaw of a station whose lower levels appear overcrowded with equipment and apparatus -- the department's low-profile ladder truck can barely fit under the 11-foot doors. Structural cracks are evident in the upper floors while the basement is filled with air compressors, an electrical system and a jumble of discarded parts.
As far as how to sell the ballot vote to the people, Lawrence isn't sure. As a town entity, the Fire Department cannot campaign with signs or brochures.
"I think we'd have no problem" in a better economy, he said, but was still hopeful. "I think we've got a pretty good shot."