Concerns over the price tag of the proposed fire station/public works complex on Central Street have prompted town officials to start exploring ways to scale it back and make it more appealing to voters.
“We can’t go out and ask taxpayers for $58 million for the project,” Town Manager Scott Lambiase said. “It’s too much of a burden.”
The official plan presented by the Fire Station/DPW Building Committee to Lambiase would combine the town’s two aging fire stations into one central headquarters located next to the police station. New public works structures would be built behind it. The DPW administrative offices would also be located in the fire station complex.
However, the project’s pricetag is more than the town’s share of the new Middle/ High School complex, prompting some in town to balk about the impact on property taxes.
“Speaking for myself, the current proposed price tag of $58.3 million is very high on taxpayers on fixed incomes, single families, seniors, and students,” said Selectmen Chairman Alex Hagerty. “People know Abington needs a new fire station/DPW building. But the last thing Abington needs is for residents to get outpriced out of the community. I’m thankful the Town Manager has taken this initiative to reduce the project cost.”
The $58.3 million project would temporarily add $1.36 to the town’s tax rate. For a $500,000 home, that would add $680 annually. A website published by the Fire Station/DPW Building Committee includes a calculator that lets residents estimate the tax impact of the project.
Although his board hasn’t yet formally discussed the project, Finance Committee Chairman Daniel Eddy said he also has concerns.
“Any resident who pays property taxes, or any resident who rents and realizes that the increased tax will be passed to them through a rent increase, should be or are concerned about this proposal,” he said.
One idea being considered is to build the new fire station, and then repurpose the existing Bedford Street and Rockland Street stations as DPW garages.
Fire officials have produced videos highlighting problems with the two existing stations, both of which are several decades old. Specifically, there isn’t a separate space to decontaminate gear and equipment following a fire, when firefighters return covered in soot, smoke, and other toxins. The bays are also too small to store some of the department’s modern apparatus — the ladder truck, for example, had to be custom built to fit inside the Bedford Street station.
“There’s a much higher standard you need for a modern fire station that we’re not reaching,” Lambiase said.
The public works buildings on Central Street are also decades old, in need of new roofs and other major upgrades. One of the salt storage shed walls has started to buckle.
“Nobody denies the facilities aren’t working for what we’re doing right now, for what our needs are,” Lambiase said.
That’s also the opinion of the building committee.
“The committee has, for the most part, completed its charge of giving our recommendation to the town manager. He is now just looking at any possible options to reduce the cost,” said committee Chairman Derek Haimaidi.
‘The committee is unanimous on the fact that both departments need new buildings. But going forward those decisions will come from the town manager and the Board of Selectmen.”
The fire station buildings are sound enough — with some relatively minor upgrades — to host the public works department’s fleet of trucks, mowers, and backhoes, according to Lambiase.
Both stations have new heating systems. Two of the three roofs at the Rockland Street station are new, and the Bedford Street station roof is also in good condition.
Other options being examined include keeping the public works administrative offices in the existing Summer Street facility, and downsizing some of the proposed fire station’s public spaces.
Lambiase said he’s hoping to get the pricetag under $40 million, which he believes would make it more palatable for taxpayers.
The Board of Selectmen have called for a Special Town Meeting on Saturday Oct. 14 to consider the project. If approved, voters will be asked during a Special Town Election on Oct. 21 to approve endorse a temporary tax hike to pay for it.
Over the next few weeks, Lambiase, who shepherded police and fire station construction projects previously in Duxbury, said he would be working with project engineers to firm up a final plan to be presented to voters.
“We have some time,” he said.
Selectman Tim Chapin said the town had to balance the space needs of the fire and pubic works departments with the need to be fiscally responsible.
“One of the major reasons we hired Scott was his experience in Duxbury with large scale building projects,” he said. “This is his wheelhouse and he’s done a great job along with Chairman Derek Haimadi and the building committee preparing a final plan that makes sense to both departments and the taxpayers.”
Lambiase also gave credit to Haimaidi, a firefighter, who has steered the building committee for more than two years, studying multiple iterations of possible site plans.
“The committee’s charge was to find out the space needs and do an analysis of what makes sense. They did exactly what they were supposed to do,” he said.