Letter: Public Safety Study Committee (Part 1) – Facility needs and site options

by beth on February 21, 2017

[Ed note: My Southborough accepts signed letters to the editor submitted by Southborough residents. Letters may be emailed to mysouthborough@gmail.com.

This is the first of at least two letters from the Public Safety Study Committee as we approach Special Town Meeting. Normally, I wouldn’t accept multiple letters from the same party on the same issue. But they have convinced me that the letters will be covering different aspects of the project. Given the scale and scope of the project voters are being asked to decide on in two weeks, I am allowing it.]

To the Editor:

The Public Safety Study Committee (“Committee”) has worked tirelessly over two plus years to evaluate the needs of the Town of Southborough’s Police and Fire Departments’ facilities and recommend various options to Board of Selectmen. The voting members of our Committee are made up of tax paying residents with experience in the both the public and private sectors (police officers, firefighters, architect, accounting and finance, and broad private sector business backgrounds). We often hear rumors or misconstrued facts in our conversations with residents about the proposed project. With the Special Town Meeting fast approaching, this Committee wants to ensure that all the Southborough voters have the right facts to make their decision and can benefit from our 2 years of research and deliberation.

Over the next few weeks, we will submit a few letters to the editor documenting questions that we receive on a frequent basis, questions submitted to us via our Committee website, or those that are posed in various public forums.

This week’s letter will focus on the need for new facilities and the site options examined with helpful links included along the way in case you want further details. Stay tuned for details on the site plan, building size, project cost, and the interaction of proposed facility with the contiguous parcels (remainder of golf course, Choate Field, and Woodward School).

Project Need  

Have any questions on the need for constructing a new Police and Fire Station?

Here is a link to some of the common frequently asked questions regarding the need:

Frequently Asked Questions – Project Need

The links below provide detailed pictures of the current conditions in Southborough as compared to the proposed conditions (Police compared to recently constructed facility in Weston and Fire compared to recently constructed facility in Holden):

Police Department Current Conditions

Fire Department Current Conditions

IF YOU HAVE ANY DOUBT ABOUT THE CURRENT CONDITIONS, FEEL FREE TO CALL THE POLICE AND FIRE DEPARTMENT TO SCHEDULE A STATION TOUR TO COME TO YOUR OWN CONCLUSIONS.

Why can’t we just renovate the existing facilities?

A significant amount of time was spent by the Committee examining the feasibility of renovating the existing facilities to meet the current space needs. Specific to the Police Department, the Committee was advised by 4 different architects that it was not practical to renovate the existing facility. Specific to the Fire Department, any renovation would trigger certain building code requirements bringing the cost of any renovation approximately equal to the cost of new construction.

Ultimately, it was determined that due to the age of these structures and the requirements to bring them up to building code, the cost would be almost the same as if a new facility were to be constructed. A renovation would also come well short of meeting the required space needs without further land acquisition. In addition, there was no way to renovate the existing facilities without displacing the Fire Department for over a year, creating significant cost and operational issues.

Has the Committee looked at a stand-alone Police Station and if so what would that project cost?

The Committee believes that a combined Public Safety Facility is the best option for the town to pursue. Therefore, a separate Police Station was not pursued or fully examined. The Committee believes that a combined facility is the best option for the Town primarily due to the fact that it will result in 10 % less square footage than having a separate police and fire facility, which saves at least $2 million in construction and soft costs. Longer term, there would only be one building to maintain, so as systems start to reach the end of their useful life, there will only be one system to replace instead of two.

Where else has the Committee looked at for property around town and why did we opt not to pursue?

The Committee reviewed multiple spots around town, including the existing Public Safety site. A presentation of the pros and cons of each site is located here:

Other Sites Evaluated

I thought you recommended to build on the current Public Safety Site? Why are we proposing to build on the St. Mark’s Golf Course?

During our evaluation of sites for a possible combined Public Safety Facility, we only examined locations in a central area of Town that were in town control or were for sale. Ultimately, due to the immediate need for these facilities, the only viable option was to build on the current site. However, to build on the current site and meet the space needs of both the Police and Fire Departments required land adjacent to the property that was owned by the St. Mark’s School. Unfortunately, this land was NOT for sale! This makes it very hard to build without taking land by eminent domain which would have required significant time, effort, and ultimately cost to each Taxpayer.

However, a counter offer was made by the St. Mark’s School in an effort to help meet the town’s needs for public safety, while also satisfying their desire to own land contiguous to their campus.

Details of the land swap agreement are outlined in the below documents:

Press Release

Letter from St. Mark’s School

Land Exchange Agreement

The Committee has voted that this site accommodates all the space needs for both the police and fire departments, while not impacting the future use of the remainder of the site. The plans that will be presented at Town Meeting (and discussed in a submission next week) will show how the proposed Public Safety Facility can integrate into the site and co-exist with Golf Course operations, while leaving the option to potentially improve the traffic flow and parking for the Woodward School and Choate Field.

What are the alternatives if Article 1 (Land Swap Agreement plus Public Safety Building Construction) does not pass to address the public safety facility needs?

There are NO sites central to the center of town that would accommodate a combined public safety facility. Therefore, the likely result is that each department’s needs would need to be addressed separately. Potential options include:

1) Building a new Police Station on a separate piece of land and build new Fire Department in the current location. Potential fallbacks to this solution are:

a) Additional cost for having two buildings (outlined below),

b) Potential land acquisition for Stand-Alone Police Station,

c) Additional time and cost needed for design,

d) Potential environmental remediation on the current public safety site, and

e) The need to relocate the Fire Department for up to 18 months which adds significant cost (outlined below) and presents significant operational challenges

2) Attempt to acquire additional land at the current public safety site to accommodate a combined facility. Potential fallbacks to this solution are:

a) Land Acquisition Cost (cost unknown),

b) Possibility of Eminent Domain or extended negotiations,

c) Potential environmental remediation on the current public safety site, and

d) The need to relocate the Fire Department for up to 18 months which adds significant cost (outlined below) and presents significant operational challenges

The following is a list of potential additional costs should the town need to proceed with either option above for purpose of satisfying the Public Safety Building Construction needs:

Additional Costs

For every $1 million added of project cost, it will cost the average taxpayer an extra $12 to $15 annually.

It is disingenuous and financially irresponsible to imply that the Committee has other options on town owned land to build the Public Safety Facility. Those options cost $4 million (or more) than any cost currently being proposed and ALL require land acquisition.

We welcome your questions and the opportunity to clear up any confusion you have. You have two options to learn more:

Submit a question online to be answered in a future letter: Ask the Committee

Attend our next public information session:

Monday February 27th, 7 PM, Woodward School Cafeteria

Stay tuned for an update in the coming week on the final design being presented to Town Meeting, along with cost estimate details.

Respectfully Submitted,

Public Safety Study Committee

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Al Hamilton February 21, 2017 at 1:53 PM

“There are NO sites central to the center of town that would accommodate a combined public safety facility.”

This is not an accurate statement. In fact, the committee voted that the preferred place was in the area of the existing station and developed several alternatives that were judged viable. In the end, the committee voted at least twice to ask the BOS to negotiate or take land in the St. Marks meadow for a PS building.

In the end, the controlling factor was that options that required demolition of the Fire station and rebuilding on the same site were not viable because no temporary facility to house the Fire Dept was identified (note, this was priced out in the budget at $500,000 not $1,000,000 as has been previously reported). The committee did identify one option (aka Option 6) which was a stand alone facility that would have extended into the St. Marks meadow and would have permitted operations in the existing station to continue during construction.

The big advantage of this site are the reduced costs of running gas/water (approx $500,000 in the current estimate) and the ability to engineer a light as part of the state project ($400,000). The big draw back is that St. Marks would be a reluctant seller. However, that is what eminent domain is for. It is interesting that we are willing to use the process against citizens in the Main St project but more reluctant to challenge a large non tax paying entity.

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2 John Smith February 22, 2017 at 7:17 AM

Al….I respect your honesty and expertise in this subject matter since you have spent so much of your time dedicated to this subject.

What cant be lost in your statement above is that we had other options and those were not presented to the residents of Southborough by the BOS. What happened to that original deal? The BOS has created this division among groups not just because its a bad deal but they are trying to rush it through a Special Town meeting.

I also believe we should build a stand alone police station at the DPW / Transfer station for 8 million (see Town of Sutton) then focus on FD in its current location or another spot. This is a town of 10,000 People, the norm for a Town this size is not a 23 Million Complex on land we don’t own.

Also, it appears that Article 3 does not have funding for the remodeling of the course nor has it thought about how it will be maintained and operated during the 18 month construction process (this cost could be over 1 million)….MORE IMPORTANTLY David Parry’s Article 3 dances around a binding CR, he has even said it’s not in perpetuity and could have a limit.

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3 Concerned Resident February 22, 2017 at 8:39 AM

Al – Your statement above IS COMPLETELY HYPOCRITICAL to what you’ve been saying and supporting throughout most of your time on the committee. You said at the BOS meeting on 2/7/17, “I want to dispel the rumors that there are great ‘plan B’s’…they all come to equally unpalatable sets of choices…” Please watch your short clip here and clarify your position. You can stop watching once the BOS thank you for your comment. http://www.youtubecutter.com/watch/5194de99/

You also state at the BOS meeting, one option being more expensive and the other the sustainable meadow in front St. Mark’s. For someone who proclaims to be the “town cheapskate” I would surmise that you still support building on the golf course as you mentioned on tape at the BOS meeting, seeing as alternatives are more expensive. As for your opinion on taking St. Mark’s sustainable land by eminent domain, you felt would no doubt, be voted down by the town. I have been told that St. Mark’s offered the golf course to the town because they in no way want to give us any land. Am I right assume the town would want to avoid giant legal fees trying to take land from St. Mark’s whether it be its prime real estate or an acre or two to the side of the existing buildings – especially when the golf course, the most desirable real estate in Southborough, has been offered to the community at a discount?

Also, is it possible that the $900,000 you refer to above could be incurred by different sources of funding?

It seems that your points against the public safety building demonstrate you have an axe to grind with the town.

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4 Al Hamilton February 22, 2017 at 6:44 PM

Concerned

Let me be clear, there are no great plan B’s there is also no great plan A. If there were we would have built a PS building long ago. I have stated publicly and privately that I would have supported a budget up to $20,85 million but not over that. The committee and the BOS decided to exceed that number and I kept my word.

I spent over 2 years working on this project, my goal was to help the town address the real needs of the police and fire dept’s \ and to make sure we did not end up with an building that was too expensive. I failed in this endeavor.

Regarding the $900,000. It comes in 2 parts. $500,000 which is the cost of running a gas line and a water line down 85 to the site. The $400,000 is the cost of installing a traffic signal to control traffic on 85 when the emergency equipment is rolling out of the station. Both of these costs are not present in the St. Marks meadow site as there is gas and water in the road and a Light is part of the Main St project. (we looked into being able to use funding from the Main St project but it does not extend to the site so it does not qualify).

I do not like the building that has been designed I think it is a monument to silo mentality and excessively sprawling but I would hold my nose and vote for it if we could build it for $21 million.

Like I said, I worked on the project for 2 years. It would have been very easy for me to just go along with the crowd and overlook the lack of fiscal discipline that has characterized this program. People would now be singing my praises instead of calling me a hypocrite. But I believe what I believe and am not afraid to stand my ground. I do regret working on this project though.

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5 Resident February 22, 2017 at 9:47 AM

Bottom line for me is that this town of 10,000 people does not need such a huge and hugely expensive building for 8-10 people to work in at a time. A 30 million dollar project? I think a new police station and renovations to the fire department are what we need. I think it’s over the top for the BOS and other groups to expect taxpayers to support this huge expenditure.

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6 Frank Crowell February 22, 2017 at 12:40 PM

Was it over the top to over build the number of schools needed? Just wondering….

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7 Trixie February 22, 2017 at 3:40 PM

I think it was over the top since we have declining numbers of students and perhaps one too many schools right now. However school construction is partially subsidized by the state – I don’t believe this project will be.

I would like to know exactly how much this project will cost if Article 1 and 2 pass. I don’t mean “on average”. The tax rate on my February bill was $16.38 per $1,000 before the CPA. What will the rate per $1,000 be if this project passes? I can do the rest of the math myself.

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8 Al Hamilton February 23, 2017 at 8:15 AM

My calculation is about $0.67 per thousand of assessed value. That includes $23 million for the building an $4.5 million for the land. It does not include any expenses associated with modifying the golf course.

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9 SouthboroMan87 February 22, 2017 at 8:10 PM

As a taxpayer I fully support this project. If you ever worked in the public safety field or know people like I do that work in it , then you would have a better understanding that these new modern public safety buildings purposed are not just for 8-10 people alone but also for all the modern day equipment and facilities to house the people and equipment for 24 hours a day 7 days a week 365 days a year. Many classes are held and taught by police and fire for training purposes for a lot of people as well. Civilians or firefighters , emts and police classes . A renovation is only a temporary fix. You can’t put lipstick on a pig as they say. A new fire and police building is certainly in order for those that risk their lives and to serve us citizens . Kind of irks me we live in a nice affluent comminty , yet our fire and police buildings are appalling.

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10 Another concerned resident February 23, 2017 at 7:54 AM

The estimates that I have heard for what the entire project will cost include 4 to 5 million for the golf course, plus giving up the property where the current public safety buildings are, plus around 22 million for the new building. This is very close to the 30 million dollar mark. It is my fault that I was not paying attention to this earlier in the process, but you can bet now I am. Tell me what project, Federal, State, Town or your own kitchen renovation stays within budget. Now that people are paying attention I think we should start over, not launch into what could turn into The Big Dig of Southborough.

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11 David Parry February 28, 2017 at 5:55 AM

I noticed , somewhere above, Al Hamilton’s Holy Grail: “I would have supported a budget up to $20.85 million, but not over that. The Committee and the BOS decided to exceed that number, but I kept my word. ”

O.K. So they are all liars,while ybou are so honest ?.

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