By Bonnie Adams, Government Editor
Westborough – After years of debate, scrapped plans and different funding proposals, Westborough voters have decided that now is the time to finally build a new fire station. It still took more than an hour of discussion at the Oct. 15 Special Town Meeting (STM), but when the final vote was tallied, the motion to approve the requested $11.2 million was passed.
Voters at the March 17 STM had actually also approved a request to build a new Fire Station. But because that motion would have also required the funds be paid as a debt exclusion outside the Proposition 2 ? ?levy limit, it also required approval via a ballot vote, which ultimately failed.
For the Oct. 15 STM, the request was presented as a debt exclusion within the levy limit, which does not require a ballot vote.
According to Town Manager Jim Malloy, the town will borrow $10,008,000 and use $1.2 million from free cash. The first year, which will be the highest debt service, is estimated to be approximately $850,608 or $109 for the average family home. The $11.2 million will finance the final design and construction of the new station, as well as demolish the current building.
Officials have said over the past year that a new fire station was necessary because the current one, built in the late 1880s, is not structurally sound. It has a number of code violations including mold, water damage and structural cracks throughout the building.
Several residents at the STM questioned the validity of those claims. Others asked why the proposal was coming before the voters before a final design plan had been created.
Bob Brown, the vice chair of the Municipal Buildings Committee (MBC), explained that the MBC felt it wiser to not spend potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars on a design plan for a project that may then never get approved. That had happened on a previous proposal for a public safety complex, he said.
The $11.2 million was the cap on the fire station project, he added.
“But if we can do it for less, we'sl do it for less,” he added.
Several residents questioned if the town needed a station that would be nearly double the size of the current 14,000 square foot station. Others asked why the new building needed an emergency operating center that could seat 48 people.
Brian Humes, an architect from Jacunski Humes Architects, LLC, a firm contracted by the town, noted that the new building was designed for future expansion and would serve the town's needs for at least the next fifty years.
“The primary purpose of the center will be for training,” he added.
Fire Chief Nick Perron agreed that the center was a necessity.
“Now we either have to squeeze people in [to the current training room], or run two sessions,” he added.
Leigh Emery, the chair of the Board of Selectmen, expressed frustration at some of the comments made by opponents to the article.
“We'se been working on [a proposal for a new Fire Station] for fifteen years,” she said.
If [opponents] had taken one of the tours offered by the Fire Department, they would have seen how unsound it actually is, she added.
Brown noted that there would be ample opportunities for residents to express their opinions on the project's design elements. The project would also need to go through all of the town's customary permitting procedures throughout the entire process.
The voters then approved the measure by the required majority vote, 233-96.