Town officials developing plans for a new fire station headquarters are shifting their attention away from a proposed site off Gliniewicz Way and instead focusing on the public works yard located next to the police station on Central Street.
A formal proposal doesn’t exist yet. But with upgraded public works sheds also high on the town’s list of capital needs, and Abington officials conscious of the pricetags for both projects, one idea now being kicked around involves combining the two projects with hopes of reducing the overall costs.
“In theory, it’s a really great idea,” said Fire Station Building Committee Chairman Derek Haimaidi.
Town Meeting next month will likely be asked to allow money previously approved to create plans for the Gliniewicz Way site to instead be spent studying the combined fire station and public works complex. The Town Meeting warrant is currently closed, but Selectmen Chairman Kevin DiMarzio said the board will discuss reopening it in order to add the article.
The Fire Station Building Committee in 2020 recommended the Gliniewicz Way site over the former North School location because of its size and centralized location. Concerns were immediately raised about whether fire engines and ambulances could easily and quickly leave the site, especially during busy school pick up and drop off hours. The committee felt those situations could be mitigated by managing the traffic lights at the intersection of Gliniewicz Way and Route 18, or building a second entrance and exit point, perhaps behind the nearby Lowes.
Over the past few months, however, obstacles emerged. Representatives from Lowes never responded to inquiries from project consultants. And last month, the Abington Housing Authority, which owns the land between the proposed station site and Gliniewicz Way, voted unanimously to reject an easement request by the building committee, which would allow engineers to cross the authority’s property and start site tests.
“If we can’t cross over that parcel, we can’t do any due diligence on that property without coming in from a different direction,” project consultant Rick Pomroy, of Pomroy & Associates, told the building committee at a recent meeting. “We’ve hit a stonewall on that property.”
Housing Authority Chairwoman Ellen Delany said her board was concerned about how residents at the nearby senior housing complex would be impacted by noise and traffic generated by the new combined station. In addition, state housing officials would also have to sign off on the easement, and the authority felt they would be reluctant to do so, as the easement would prevent the land from possibly being used for future housing needs.
Meanwhile, over the past year, Public Works Director John Stone has been highlighting the need for an updated public works facility. A side wall of one of the two salt sheds is buckling. The former main office is approximately seven decades old, and the garage space behind it has mold and water issues.
“It’s beyond repair,” Stone said. “It’s not safe for the guys.”
The department in 2015 moved its main office off the property and into the sewer building off Summer Street. The town paid for a new vehicle maintenance garage on the site in 1999. That building remains in good shape, Stone said.
The back two acres of the site is mostly vacant or used to store town vehicles, equipment, and materials.
A recent conversation between Stone, Fire Chief John Nuttall, and Town Manager Scott Lambiase highlighted some of the possible operational and financial efficiencies of a joint project, and helped shift the focus towards the Central Street location.
For example, a combined complex would share utility lines, parking areas, and meeting spaces. Stone said it would be easier for his crews to plow and sand in the winter. The fire station would also be located next door to the police station and vehicle maintenance garage.
“The taxpayers would get more bang for their buck,” Stone said.
The original fire station study estimated the cost of building a new station between $30-33 million. Stone has estimated that upgrading public works facilities could cost $8 million. The fire station project pricetag included about $1 million to prep the site, which would have included cutting down trees, grading the land, building an access road, and bringing in utility lines.
In the meantime, the building committee’s consultants are finalizing a request for proposal, which will be made available to private property owners possibly interested in selling the town land for a station. An earlier effort to identify possible properties along Route 18 did not turn up any interested parties. This time the net will be widened to include privately owned properties located between Route 18 and Washington Street, and Routes 139 and 123. The property would have to meet certain qualifications, such as minimium buildable acreage.
Haimaidi said If the station was sited on Central Street, the fire department would still meet industry standards for response times to the entire town.
“It’s more centrally located than the North School, but a little farther east than Gliniewicz Way,” he said.